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An endlessly meandering Australian drama set mostly inside a brothel during a single day, Birthday has its origins – rather too obviously – in a stage play by the film’s writer-director, James Harkness.
An examination of love, sex and faith in a hard-bitten world, the film has a heart and a trio of fine performances from Natalie Eleftheriadis and the always highly watchable Kestie Morassi (Zarah Garde Wilson in Underbelly) as Emma and Lily, two sex worker friends, and Richard Wilson as Joey, a shy young man in crisis. But what seem to be good intentions are undone by slack pacing, a low octane bordering on non-existent narrative and a serious lack of dramatic juice that shows the writer hasn’t given nearly enough thought about how to effectively reconfigure his stage production for the big screen.
In place of cause and effect interactions that advance the story we get a seemingly endless stream of intimate conversations, where characters tell each other how they feel rather than showing it through their actions. As much as I wanted to be moved by Eleftheriadis, who played the role on stage, there’s never the dramatic context needed to make her fine acting meaningful.