The Birthday Cake

Review by Rich Cline | 2/5

The Birthday Cake
dir Jimmy Giannopoulos
scr Jimmy Giannopoulos, Diomedes Raul Bermudez, Shiloh Fernandez
prd Diomedes Raul Bermudez, Siena Oberman, Shiloh Fernandez, Danny Sawaf, Carlos Cusco
with Shiloh Fernandez, Lorraine Bracco, Val Kilmer, Ewan McGregor, William Fichtner, Jeremy Allen White, Emory Cohen, Vincent Pastore, David Mazouz, Ashley Benson, John Magaro, Penn Badgley, Aldis Hodge, Paul Sorvino, Luis Guzman
release UK 16.Jul.21
21/US 1h33

bracco kilmer mcgregor

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A barrage of mob movie cliches undermines what might have been an intriguingly offbeat tale about a young Brooklyn man whose life takes a sudden turn. With his feature debut, director Jimmy Giannopoulos creates a superbly edgy sense of community in the extended networks of friends and family. But even an unusually strong ensemble cast can't keep a grip on the spiralling web of naggingly far-fetched plot threads.
On the 10th anniversary of his father's murder, Gio (Fernandez) is asked by his feisty mother Sofia (Bracco) to deliver a cake to a family celebration hosted by his fearsome gangster uncle Angelo (Kilmer). But Gio's day quickly takes a strange turn, running into an undercover cop (Hodge) and several jittery neighbours. His cousin Leo (Cohen) urges him to keep calm, and his friends (White and Benson) encourage him to relax, but violence is breaking out all around him. Then at the party, Gio begins to understand some new truths about the family.
Irrelevant details pepper each scene in an effort to create a sense of verisimilitude. But the woozy lighting and camerawork leave the storytelling feeling clumsy, so random snippets of omniscient voiceover from the local priest (McGregor) are required to explain key plot details. Each scene is over-egged with foreboding touches and violent impulses, gradually coalescing into a sense of narrative momentum. While the approach is inventive, the story is too familiar to have much impact. And it never arrives at its point.

This heavyweight family is packed with tough-guy uncles played by the likes of Fichtner, Pastore, Sorvino and of course Kilmer. These and other veterans are particularly good at building riveting characters even with limited screen time. And striking younger actors like Cohen, White, Hodge and Benson make their own impact. In a somewhat undefined role at the centre, Fernandez holds the sympathy as a guy in his late-20s who has somehow managed to remain disconnected from the nastiness that has defined his entire life.

Placed front and centre, Sofia's cake takes on its own life, photographed like a ticking timebomb. It's a heavy-handed hint at where things could be heading. This kind of overwrought filmmaking adds an engagingly trashy tone that's also augmented by some soapier storylines and bursts of grisliness demonstrating that perhaps blood isn't much thicker than water after all. But then, there isn't much of a message here, beyond the idea that vengeance should never be a rushed job.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 12.Jul.21

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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall