Review: ‘The Birthday Cake’ is a slice of revenge.

The Birthday Cake

Gio brings a cake to a memorial celebration for the 10th anniversary of his father’s mysterious death, hosted by his uncle (Kilmer), a Brooklyn mafia boss. His life begins to change as he pieces together what really happened to his father.

Everyone in the city seems to know Gio’s name. He hears it from every street corner as he walks about Brooklyn, from virtually every kind of person imaginable – hipster bar owners and priests, mentors and murderers. If Gio (Shiloh Fernandez) always seems surprised to hear his name, it’s because the objective of his walk is pretty intense: bringing a birthday cake to a party thrown by his mob boss uncle (Val Kilmer) to commemorate the anniversary of the death of Gio’s father.

If Gio himself is unknown to us, the archetype of his story certainly is more familiar. First-time director Jimmy Giannopoulos is acutely aware of the weight mob movies hold, especially in New York City. Every aspect of the production seems to shine with reverence for mob movie history: a crooning Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons open the film; Lorraine Bracco and Paul Sorvino appear in supporting roles that nod vigorously to their past magic in Goodfellas. Moves like these make us feel at home in the story, nostalgic for its themes even though the setting is modern.

Shiloh’s Gio is friendly, but reserved – an earnest blank canvas. Robbed of his father at an early age, he relies on his cousin Leo (Emory Cohen) and the kindly priest Father Kelly (Ewan McGregor). On paper, it’s hard to find two more polarizing father figures than a priest and a mobster, but just wait – the film doesn’t take the easy way out.

Giannopoulos’s background in music videos is well served – music anchors complements and drives the narrative forward at all times. The early joyous do-wop tracks gradually give way to modern rock and rap as the night goes on and Gio gets himself in more and more trouble. It’s supposed to be  Christmastime, but the soundtrack makes clear there is barely any Christmas cheer to speak of. I was impressed by the way Giannopoulos’ camera mirrored this descent, gradually taking the audience from bright Bensonhurst streets into a perverse night of neon bakeries and bars.

If The Birthday Cake has one major weakness, it is its inability to fully leverage its broad, talented cast. Aldis Hodge flits on and off the screen so fast you wonder if he stumbled onto the set by accident. Though they seem to represent Gio’s moral compass, Leo and Father Kelly barely cobble together 15 minutes of combined screen time. Only Luis Guzman truly capitalizes on his short cameo, driving a spark of pure comedy into an otherwise dark narrative.

Adult men in the world of The Birthday Cake seemed to be defined by their absence, their silence, by time cut short. Gio’s cousin Leo spends the majority of the film off-screen, his presence only hinted at through phone calls or text messages. Even fearsome Angelo, hobbled by a past shooting, is unable to truly speak, with a raspy squeak the only trace of what must have once been a fearsome roar. Over it all hangs the specter of Gio’s absent father.

I wish the film had done some heavier lifting to build on that central theme for a story so preoccupied with memory. I left the film wishing I had been given the opportunity to see more of these men, these memories, through Gio’s eyes. Instead, I left feeling like I’d seen a film that still had more to say.

In Theaters and On-Demand on June 18, 2021

Directed by: Jimmy Giannopoulos
Written by: Jimmy Giannopoulos, Diomedes Raul Bermudez, and Shiloh Fernandez
Director of Photography: Sean Price Williams (Good TimeThe Color Wheel)

Starring:
Shiloh Fernandez (Evil Dead, Red Riding Hood)
Ewan McGregor (Moulin Rouge!, Trainspotting, August: Osage County)
Val Kilmer (The Doors, The Saint, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang)
Lorraine Bracco (Goodfellas, “The Sopranos,” Medicine Man)
Ashley Benson (Spring Breakers, “Pretty Little Liars,” Her Smell)
 Aldis Hodge (One Night in MiamiHidden Figures, Straight Outta Compton)
 Penn Badgley (“Gossip Girl,” “You”, Margin Call)
Emory Cohen (The Place Beyond the Pines, “The OA”)
Vincent Pastore (“The Sopranos,” Revolver, Shark Tale)
Jeremy Allen White (“Shameless,” Movie 43, The Rental)

‘Goodfellas’ back on the big screen as the closing night of the Tribeca Film Festival! Q&A with cast members after!

Robert De Niro as James Conway sitting in restaurant booth with Ray Liotta as Henry Hill.

Robert De Niro as James Conway sitting in restaurant booth with Ray Liotta as Henry
Hill.

tribeca film festival 2015 logo

Goodfellas is one of my all-time favorite movies. Dare I say that I like it more than The Godfather? I do. Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci are so perfect together. I can’t think of a better closing night movie. Don’t wait to buy the tickets once they are available!


The Tribeca Film Festival (TFF), presented by AT&T, announced that the 25th Anniversary of Martin Scorseses gangster film GoodFellas—remastered from a 4k scan of the original camera negative, supervised by Scorsese—will close its 14th edition on Saturday, April 25, 2015. Starring Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco, Ray Liotta and Paul Sorvino, the film was praised by The New York Times as “breathless and brilliant” and “both the most politically serious and most evilly entertaining movie yet made about organized crime.”

In honor of the 25th Anniversary celebration, the films creators and cast members will reunite at TFF for a conversation following the film with Jon Stewart where they will discuss the acclaimed 1990 Academy Award-nominated classic based on the true-crime bestseller “Wiseguy” by Nicholas Pileggi. Closing night, co-sponsored by Infor and Roberto Coin, will take place at The Beacon Theatre.  Tickets will be available to American Express Card Members on March 23 and to the public on March 28 via tribecafilm.com. The Tribeca Film Festival will take place April 15-26, 2015.

Ray Liotta as Henry Hill sitting with Lorraine Bracco as Karen Hill at nightclub.

Ray Liotta as Henry Hill sitting with Lorraine Bracco as Karen Hill at nightclub.

“While TFFs mission is centered around new stories and voices, we also seek to honor the creators and films that have shaped the cultural landscape,” said Jane Rosenthal, co-founder, Tribeca Film Festival.  “GoodFellas is one of those pictures with an honest and stylized portrayal of the gangster lifestyle that has inspired a generation of filmmakers and television directors across genres. We are proud to celebrate its 25th anniversary at our closing night and introduce new audiences to one of Martys masterpieces.”

Martin Scorsese said, “I was so excited to learn that this picture, now 25 years old, would be closing this years Tribeca Film Festival. Excited and moved. It was an adventure to get it on screen—we wanted to make a movie that was true to Nick Pileggis book and to the life of Henry Hill and his friends, which means that we broke some rules and took some risks. So its heartening to know that GoodFellas has come to mean so much to so many people. Its wonderful to see one of your pictures revived and re-seen, but to see it closing Tribeca, a festival of new movies, means the world to me.”

“I was most proud of this film 25 years ago, and equally proud of it now. Im very happy that it is our closing night film,” said Robert De Niro, co-founder, Tribeca Film Festival.

 

Joe Pesci as Tommy DeVito, Ray Liotta as Henry Hill and Robert De Niro as James Conway

Joe Pesci as Tommy DeVito, Ray Liotta as Henry Hill and Robert De Niro as James
Conway

GoodFellas explores the criminal life like no other movie.  Following the rise and fall of a trio of gangsters over 30 years, its an electrifying, fact-inspired tale of living and dying. The film earned six Academy Award® nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director and was named 1990s Best Film by the New York, Los Angeles and National Society of Film Critics.  In 2000, GoodFellas was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the US Library of Congress.

On May 5, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment (WBHE) will release GoodFellas 25th Anniversary on Blu-rayTM and Digital HD which will include a new documentary. “Scorseses GoodFellas” featuring interviews with Robert De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio, Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta and more.

Visit www.tribecafilm.com/festival for more information about TFF’s 2015 programs and the full line-up of films.