A simple glimpse at the cast list for The Birthday Cake was enough to get me on board, featuring a wide array of actors from shows I love. Penn Badgley (Gossip Girl, You), Ashley Benson (Pretty Little Liars, Spring Breakers), Jeremy Allen White (Shameless), David Mazouz (Gotham)… the list goes on and on. Throw in vets Ewan McGregor and Val Kilmer, and you have one seriously stacked cast. It is a shame that the film itself doesn’t know how to handle the sheer level of star power. The Birthday Cake is mostly a wheel-spinning, crime comedy/thriller that sees its central character crossing paths with various personalities on the tenth anniversary of his father’s death.
All set during one madcap night, The Birthday Cake follows Giovanni (Evil Dead’s Shiloh Fernandez) as he is tasked with two highly important things. First, “go to church and light a candle for your father,” and second, deliver a cake to the home of his sleazy mob boss uncle (Val Kilmer). Turns out this is not as easy as it sounds, with Giovanni crossing paths with everyone from local baker Tammosa (Jeremy Allen White), who hates Giovanni’s uncle with a passion, to a sympathetic taxi driver with a heart of gold (Luis Guzman). A stop at a strip club, as well as witnessing a bullet to the head, will not stop Giovanni from carrying out his mission.
Some of the vignette-style storytelling works better than others. This is a film comprised of moments that are funnier separate than hodgepodged together. One of my favorites (that had me laughing out loud) is a fight between Tammosa and Ashley Benson’s Tracey in the backseat of a taxi. Their driver attempts to deescalate their argument; “I’ve got this great book—28 years I’ve been married,” he tells the couple. When he hands the book to Tracey, she immediately starts beating Tammosa with it. It is a shame The Birthday Cake didn’t have more of these light-hearted comedic asides.
The finale is the only area with significant stakes or excitement, and nearly every death is dramatic and silly. A cheesy voiceover feels like it came imported from an entirely different type of movie. While I absolutely adore this cast, I longed for a better script. Mafia/crime thrillers are a dime a dozen these days, so if exploring this avenue, one better have a particularly compelling argument. Otherwise, you are just a baby who has face-planted into a chocolate cake.
The Birthday Cake comes to limited release theaters on Friday, June 18th.