The Birthday Cake Review: Made With the Wrong Ingredients

The Birthday Cake

Jimmy Giannopoulos’ The Birthday Cake tries to pretend it has more substance than it actually does. It tries to make us believe it’s going somewhere we might not expect. Unfortunately, you can see everything coming from miles away. The film’s finale is thrilling, but by then, it’s too little too late. The buildup is so dull and borrowed from far better material, such as Tarantino‘s Pulp Fiction or Scorsese‘s Mean Streets. The Birthday Cake wants so badly to weave a complex web of storylines that a Tarantino or Scorsese film does with ease. Yet the film is a poor man’s version of those films.

A lot of this is due to a lack of character development. Outside of Gio, we don’t get to know anybody else in the film. The film’s two other main characters, Angelo and Leo, are simply talked about through stories and rumors. Angelo is a blank slate, we learn very little about him other than he was shot in the neck during an assassination attempt, and he’s the neighborhood mob boss. Leo is the biggest mystery of them all. We know he’s close with Gio, and he’s missing throughout the film because he messed up. Then again, viewers who watch a lot of mob films know who these characters are because they play like stereotypical characters in a mob film. 

Not to mention, Birthday Cake lacks several crucial components key for the genre and satisfying movies in general. One can easily overcome a generic mob plot is through engaging characters, direction, or at the very least, bloody violence. However, only one is evident here—mostly occurring during the film’s climax. The film is essentially an investigatory puzzle. Once we get past the opening act, we go on a journey where Gio walks around the city, meeting various friends, and encounters plot elements along the way. All of the other details are thinly drawn out—from the mob aspects down to character motivations. As soon he goes on his walk to Angelo’s house, the narrative’s pacing downshifts all the way down to first gear. 

The Birthday Cake wants so badly to weave a complex web of storylines that a Tarantino or Scorsese film does with ease.

The narrative here meanders along with a plot that never really moves past a snail’s pace—even as it sets up for its tense finale. Screenwriters Diomedes Raul Bermudez, Shiloh Fernandez, and Jimmy Giannopoulos overcomplicate things with a network of complex mob storylines, which don’t add much to the overall storyline. At the same time, neither Giannopoulos’ script nor his direction seeks out or finds any real sense of urgency or character building. Even with a lengthy cast list of amazing actors, they’re just glorified cameos. Other than star Shiloh Fernandez, none of the actors on the billing have more than 10-15 minutes of screen time. Nevertheless, the cast as a whole is generally reliable. 

Unfortunately, Gio is severely overwritten to the point of making the character a generic vanilla character. There isn’t any substance or complexities here, and any actor can play this part. Not much would have changed in the narrative. Of course, the character would have been less boring if it had a better script or a more measured performance. However, as it stands, Gio feels underdeveloped at best.

Overall, The Birthday Cake is so much less than the sum of its recipe. It’s a frustratingly drawn-out film where nothing truly happens until the very end. Many of its key elements feel totally out of sync with each other, resulting in a film that stumbles over itself at every possible moment. This is a cake that you might not want to eat.

Rating: 2.5/5 atoms

The Birthday Cake hits theaters and on demand June 18th.

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