On the 10th anniversary of his father’s death, Gio (Shiloh Fernandez – Evil Dead, Red Riding Hood) makes his way to a family reunion comprised of some of Brooklyn’s most notorious mafia bosses. On his way there, he is thrust into a desperate tug of war search between other mafia families that will test what it truly means to be “family”.
The Birthday Cake is an interesting film in that it’s equal parts a derivative mafia family drama and subversion of it. When the film begins, we’re introduced to your typical Italian mafia family (Gio’s family) and they are at the height of their dominance. However, this is just the beginning of the film. The vast majority of the story after this intro is focused on Gio, ten years later, coming to terms with his family’s fall from grace within the mafia world. We’re thrust on an almost walking sim-like experience, traveling across town with Gio, experiencing every interaction with him. Some of these interactions at first didn’t seem to offer much in terms of plot importance, but looking back, it’s clear that the film making team wanted the viewer to walk in Gio’s shoes to really feel the full, brute force affect of the third act. I don’t think this could have been pulled off without Fernandez‘s calm, warm, and seemingly genuine performance that humanized Gio and contrasted him with every other character.
The other performances were fine but nothing we haven’t seen before by these actors or anyone in a mafia film role. It was great to see Val Kilmer again, playing a rather substantial role in the third act, as well as Jeremy Allen White (Shameless). Both have rather small but impactful roles. The only real puzzler is why Ewan McGregor decided to take this role as he’s only in it for a handful of minutes. Coming off of just seeing him in Halston, it’s rather disappointing (give us more Ewan!).
The only real criticism I have for the film is that at times, it seemed like the director and cinematographer couldn’t agree on which type of style they wanted to go with. Throughout the film you go from shaky-cam, to steady, to gritty and blurry, and repeat. It takes you out of the experience.
Overall, The Birthday Cake offers a surprisingly different take to the mafia boss genre. At times, the writing can feel cliché and derivative, but makes up for it by giving the audience something new and interesting to work with. This film is very much like the cake it takes its name from – something you know to expect, just put in a nice box to keep it fresh.
In theatres and on demand June 18th
Review – The Birthday Cake
Reviewed online (screener provided by Screen Media Films), June 16, 2021. Rating: R. Running time: 83 minutes.
PRODUCTION: (USA) Oceana Studios presents a Screen Media Films release of a Purpose Films, Artemis, Foton Pictures production in association with SSS Entertainment, SSS Film Capital, Tucci & Company, Carte Blanche, Glanzrock Productions. Producers: Diomedes Raul Bermudez (p.g.a.), Carlos Cuscó, Shiloh Fernandez (p.g.a.), Siena Oberman (p.g.a.), Danny Sawaf. Executive producers: Luke Daniels, Ron Esfandiari, Fernando Ferro, Andrew Davies Gans, Mickey Gooch Jr., Greg Lauritano, Jamin O’Brien, Garrett Patten, Paolo Paulin, Shaun Sanghani, Kyle Stroud, Damiano Tucci, Tiziano Tucci, Jason Weinberg.
CREW: Director: Jimmy Giannopoulos. Writers: Diomedes Raul Bermudez, Shiloh Fernandez, Jimmy Giannopoulos. Cinematography: Sean Price Williams. Editing: Brad Turner. Music: Jimmy Giannopoulos, Tim Sandusky.
CAST: Shiloh Fernandez, Emory Cohen, Penn Badgley, Ashley Benson, Lorraine Bracco, Val Kilmer, Ewan McGregor, William Fichtner, Aldis Hodge, Jeremy Allen White.