Sometimes I purposely watch a movie that everyone has agreed is a stinker just to see to what degree it doth stinketh, and precisely how it doth stinketh (the cause thereof, therefore). Also, if everyone talks about a particular scandalous scene, I have to see it for myself. Now, I won't lay down money for this experience, no. It has to come from the library or Netflix (since I pay a flat fee, and turn these stinkers around quickly, it's free in my mind).
Thus, I got Birth because this kid was supposed to climb into a bathtub with a nekkid Nicole Kidman (who I consider a first degree skank, so I didn't tune in see HER*), and Hollywood has always skated the edge on what they make children do to get a shot. (For instance, everyone on the shoot knew Drew Barrymore was secretly convinced that ET was real, even though she knew he was a puppet and could see the puppeteers - who would often fire up ET and play with her between takes, further fostering her innocent delusion - so in the scene where he dies, her tears are real and it reportedly took a long time to console her after that scene. She claims she was sad for weeks afterward.)
*TLD: I've noticed that most straight men are either ambivalent about Nicole Kidman, or they think she's a skank. (Note the "most" there.) Almost universally, women and gay men think she's pretty and/or hot. How's that for an interesting demarcation line? My favorite one though is "Ginger or MaryAnn?" - with most straight guys answering without hesitation "MaryAnn."
Weeehelllll, Birth turned out to be one of the worst movies I've ever seen, in almost every aspect there is, perhaps save the cinematography. (Before I go on, let me explain the premise so you know what I'm referring to later: This 10 year old boy shows up one day and announces he's Nicole's reincarnated husband and he wants her back; hilarity ensues.)
The direction is thunderously pretentious, and it's clearly the product of a film school weenie with mediocre talent. I detected a good two filmic cliches (or "homages") for every five minutes of screen time. The simplest and avoidable amateuristic errors are abundant; for instance: When someone has to go somewhere, we see the whole voyage. In one scene, Nicole has to walk to the bridge where her husband died (during the first 5 minutes of the film, which would have been the first 30 seconds of the film under a good director), but we begin the scene with her standing blocks from there. Just standing there for a minute. Staring. Then she starts walking and we follow her the whole time - once even cutting to a posterior view, and watch her back for a while before we cut back to her front.
All patches of dialogue contain gargantuan pauses between query and response. My wife and I were concocting a drinking game (for future use at a party) around the pauses between dialogue - the intent being to get a good buzz on, but not bring about alcohol poisoning or choking on one's own vomit. We arrived at having to take a drink (one swallow) when there was over 8 second gap between dialogue lines. And there are two built-in chug-a-whole-drink events (crucial to any entertainment-based drinking game**). These are: 1) an amazingly graphic and completely gratuitous sex scene between Nicole and her fiance - you chug when you can see his butt (for women) or when you see Nicole's other nipple (for men - hint: you see one when the scene begins), and 2) at 49 minutes into the movie, Nicole's character sums up every single event that has occurred in the movie thus far to another character - so the gratuitous and redundant deja vu, plus the irony (the Alanis Morissette kind) that the movie is about reincarnation and here we are reliving it - is a splendid reason for a chug.
**TLD: A good example of an entertainment-based drinking game is "Chugboat," which is played while watching "Loveboat." Everyone picks one of the main characters, like Julie, the Doc, the bartender, or the captain (you can pick the boat, too, but only a full shot of it counts, not parts of it in the background), and you all have to pick a different one. Whenever your character appears on the screen, you take a drink. If a girl walks by in a bikini, everyone must lift their drinks as if to toast, scream "Balloon Smuggler!" and chug the remainder of whatever they're holding. Another example is a game associated to the first Bob Neuhart show. Every time someone says "Bob," which they say a LOT for some reason, you take a drink. I don't recall the chug trigger for that game. I do recall you got plenty wasted in a half hour with just the "Bob" thing, though. Bob was a boot factor of 3, and Chugboat was a boot factor of 2, unless you picked a character that was central to that week's show, and then it rocketed to boot factor 4. If I recall the boot factors, 1 was only lightweights would get a buzz, 2 was you'd get drunk, 3 was you'd get very drunk with lightweights possibly "booting" (barfing), 4 was over half the people might boot and definitely everyone would get sloppy drunk, and 5 was the boot was simply "when" and not "if."
The casting is amusing because the character description of every single character (except the kid) must've been: "Perpetually smug-looking New York type." You get to the point where you want to build a time machine and miraculously appear in the middle of a scene in hopes the actors will find another facial expression.
Inability to portray more than one facial expression is an epidemic in this film. I've never thought Nicole was much of an actress - unless she was cast as a devious bitch, which seems to be her forte - but this movie finally completely confirms my suspicions. In one scene she is (I'm guessing) supposed to be awash in emotion while she accepts the fact that this kid is in fact her reincarnated husband. We stay locked on her face for a 5-minute closeup. In the entire time, not a single muscle moves, neither eye wanders (though they redden impressively), nor is there nary a twitch of the lip. You have NO IDEA what she's supposed to be thinking or what the script called for (unless the screenwriter honestly indicated she should remain completely still and expressionless for 5 minutes, and if it did, may the ghost of Bette Davis haunt his hairy ass). Were Cate Blanchett or Kate Winslet (or, hell, Renee Zellweger or Angela Bassett if we fear being too much of an anglophile) wasted in this movie, she would've killed, and you would've known every thought crossing her mind - down to the color of the wallpaper if she were pondering the renovation of her bathroom.
Even the boy playing the reincarnated husband remains neutral in voice and carriage, which, in terms of how it sinks this movie, is the equivalent of when the Titanic broke in half and hastened its gurgly rush to the bottom of the ocean. See, he's playing someone who's so in love and so driven to get back with this woman, that he's hounding her to take him back even though he's a different person and only 10, but he does this as though he's the shrunken zombie of the dead husband, not the lovesick reincarnation. If any part should be played for the cheap seats, it's this one. But no - it's as undisturbed and clear as newly blown glass.
The soundtrack veers between this over-the-top screeching of violins as if Hitchcock's birds were attacking, and this low thrumming noise that reminds me of the odious drum solo that accompanied Grateful Dead concerts, which is in the frequency range that makes most people feel like they have to move their bowels. (Well, at least it's an appropriate sensation.)
And then we get to the big controversial scene where the kid climbs into the tub with Nicole. It's as shocking as they say. The filmmakers claim they used special effects to achieve it, but in the scene where you see the kid actually climb into the tub, it looks live, because the ripples in the water show up on Nicole's bod. Given what they can do with digital effects now, it's not outside the realm of possibility that it was faked, but realistic water ripples on someone's skin is quite the feat. But, even if it was faked, the dialogue that the boy has to say is pretty explicit in that he's acknowledging that he's in the tub, nude, with her, and for all the reasons you'd crawl into someone else's tub. In a later scene, they blatantly discuss having sex, too. Folks, the boy had to know what he was talking about, and I dunno ... I think, as a parent, it's pretty icky to put a kid into that kind of a situation. How, organically, does that differ from a molester engaging a child in sex talk? (Maybe doing all those same kinds of scenes with her diminutive, glassy-eyed ex-husband has left Nicole a little confused as to when she's talking to a grownup or not.)
Update: I've watched that scene again before I sent it winging back to Netflix, and when you see them both in the tub together, it conceivably could have been special effects, because there's a clear line presented by Nicole's body. But, given the other things they had that kid do and say, I doubt they much hesitated to really have him plop himself into the tub with her for real. And - here's the interesting thing - since special effects are so good anymore, the producers have the room to lie about whether it was a live shot or not - it's not provable either way.
Well, offended morals aside, this movie is an absolute turkey, festooned with rotten tomatoes, good for nothing but carving up and serving on a tray with some lumpy mashed potatoes, like I've done here.
Unless you're planning on playing the drinking game we invented. In that case, please be sure to sleep on your stomach, and have a garbage can nearby. Bottoms up!