Parents' Guide to

The Birthday Cake

By Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 17+

Violent, predictable mob movie doesn't hit; nudity, cursing.

Movie R 2021 83 minutes
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While it's a subpar mafia movie, this violent crime drama is a feat in producing. It's brimming with talent, from Ewan McGregor all the way down to an astonishing number of character and name actors who pop in for a scene or two -- several of them from The Sopranos or Goodfellas. Spotting and identifying familiar faces is part of the joy; it's like you're playing a trivia game. But if Fernandez (who also wrote and produced) has a co-star here, it's really New York. The traditional mob story is told against a changing landscape where housewives and hipsters have overtaken Brooklyn, and now it's more about getting a kombucha at the bodega than a lap dance at the Bada Bing (although that's in here too).

Unfortunately, the great idea of old-school mobsters dealing with a new New York is lost in the visuals. The grittiness of New York remains, but the cinematography looks like it was shot through a 1970s filter, and the on-screen title font belies the fact that it's taking place in the modern day (mentions of Airbnb and an Uber driver are the only tip-offs). Even more confusing is a jump back in time to "10 years ago" (so ... that would be around 2010?) that features William Fichtner with a fake mustache surely ripped off Madame Tussaud's wax statue of Burt Reynolds. But The Birthday Cake's biggest problem is that, despite all of the anxiety of Gio going through an intense day full of bloodshed and threats, it's boring. Each scene has great actors chewing the scenery to make their one day of work memorable, but it's more like a stack of performances than characters who keep you invested. And for all the bloodshed and brutal beatings, the story hinges on a twist that real mobsters might actually describe as "cute."

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