As we meet up with young Gio as he makes his way home, he visits a church to see Father Kelly. Then runs into his uncle and cousin which leads to a tense altercation with some bullies from school. Ten years later, we see an older Gio. While he’s older, he’s still involved in the darker side of the family business. As tradition, he’s getting ready to head over to his uncles to celebrate his dead father’s birthday. As such, his mom bakes a cake for him to take every year. What follows is a whirlwind of events that continue to escalate until the night is done.
The Birthday Cake rests in an odd place between character drama and mobster flick. While it wears its inspirations on its sleeve, it does stand on its own well enough to be worth a watch. But with that said, there isn’t enough action to be considered as such and could leave some folks wanting. On the flip side, most of the writing is strong but there are still broad strokes being used on some characters creating some cliqued and over the top performances.
I mentioned the writing because the little moments between characters are when the film really shines. There are some genuine and touching scenes with some laugh out loud moments. And it’s times like these that are peppered throughout that keep you invested in the outcome. Special shout out goes to Gio (Shiloh Fernandez) for pretty much carrying the film. Able to convey the right amount of heart in the given circumstances and also holding his own with heavyweights such as Father Kelly (Ewan McGregor) and Uncle Angelo (Val Kilmer). It is unfortunate though, that these two as well as other familiar faces were given so little to do in the grand scheme of things.
Even though a vast majority of The Birthday Cake takes place at night, it was easy to see what was happening without sacrificing the gritty feel of the film. While the visual aspects make a strong showing, the same can’t be said for the audio. There were times that the levels would drop enough to make it hard to hear anything being said and it would happen in scenes where dialog was key. Overall, the editing and production were solid.
The Birthday Cake ends up being an interesting and mostly entertaining movie thanks to its strong acting and script. But that strength can only take it so far depending on what you’re looking for. If it’s action or an all-out thriller, you might want to look elsewhere as there are plenty of quiet moments that can slow everything down. Same goes for wanting something new and unexpected. The story, while strong, is predictable and the upcoming beats are telegraphed. Ultimately, it’s a party that you wouldn’t be mad at going to, even if there are a few annoying people there.
7 out of 10