DVD Review - Birthday Cake

Chad Darnell in "Birthday Cake"
Writer-director-star Chad Darnell has fashioned this sequel to his 35-minute short comedy Groom's Cake (2012). It's essentially a repetition of the short but more drama and more over-the-top comedy dragged out to feature length.

Darnell plays Daniel Ferguson, a writer and TV producer in Los Angeles who is married to Steven James, played by Rib Hillis. Steven is an actor on a TV series. The two are planning a birthday party for their adopted daughter. Just as they were planning their wedding in the previous movie, everything goes wrong in increasing degrees.

The breakdown of the party planning and eventually the party itself is the key source of the comedy. Instead of just friends and Steven's sister, more of Daniel and Steven's family appears. Specifically, their respective mothers and even Steven's grandmother arrives for the party. The personalities of their mothers are actually the key sources of the movie's drama.

Darnell seems to craft this movie as a series of sketches that are loosely tied. The fact that both Daniel and Steven have a baby, which was a big concern in the previous movie, seems to be of no consequence in this one. There are hardly any scenes of Daniel and Steven with the baby. The opening scene is a joke about the baby that has disturbing implications that are never addressed again, particularly when one moment almost demands it.

The opening joke involves Daniel thinking the baby that they adopted wasn't the baby they thought. Later, in the movie, Steven's mom suggests that an adopted baby isn't the same as a biological baby. Immediately after, Darnell is able to shift focus away and give Hillis a great dramatic moment to play, but because the implications of the opening joke and later conflict aren't addressed, there is a disconnect.

It's also revealed that Daniel and Steven are having another baby but not through adoption. They're using a surrogate. The question is why. Why wouldn't they adopt again? Is their a value that they place on having a biological baby? This is also never addressed.

Darnell instead inserts diversions that take away time that could have been better spent on addressing these essential questions. A scene involving a fashion photographer named Tony Duran as well as a scene involving Jane Badler, the actress from the TV series V (1983), were totally superfluous. A joke about Outfest is one that fell short because Darnell's character suggests there's a whole rant there, but he restrains from it. Instead of holding back, he should have unleashed that rant.

There are jokes that worked. A joke that leads to the two guys revealing how many men with whom they've each had sex was well done, but, again, Darnell's structure doesn't allow this joke to be revisited or reveal what it says about the two of them.

Another recent film that is like this one but doesn't feel like loosely-tied sketches is Turtle Hill, Brooklyn. It's also about a gay couple at the center of a party they are organizing where issues are raised, and drama bubbles underneath. Turtle Hill handles the issues with a bit more calm and doesn't just throw things out there. It links things into a more cohesive narrative. This movie goes for all Hell to break loose in a silly explosion.

Two Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but for mature audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 26 mins.


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