In case the title didn’t give it away, it’s Nick’s (Stewart Lockwood) birthday and he’s spending the day hanging with his friends Harry (Garth Williams), Liz (Catherine Traveller) and Liz’s half-sister Cat (Tuesday Betts). The group drink and they smoke and they hang out, and Nick’s birthday goes by like any other. Well, any other in which his birthday is a musical short film.
Graeme Cole’s It’s Nick’s Birthday is a musical that’s unlike many other musicals I’ve seen. While it takes a naturalistic stance on the musical, which is not entirely new, having the characters burst into song and dance within the common confines of their day-to-day lives, the sentiments expressed are unique. The songs may have a purpose and point in that moment, but they come across more like stream of consciousness; these are musical numbers, insomuch that someone was humming a tune and it turned into a production.
And a lackadaisical production at that; there’s a hum-drum tone to the music and the pacing that goes along with the ideas being sung about and the general performances. When the group breaks into song-and-dance at a park bench, for example, it all feels very half-assed, but it’s important to see that not as a criticism of the film’s execution and more the tone that the film is going for; it’s all intentional.
The choice to shoot the film in Super 8mm goes along with that tone too, lending a gritty, hazy feel to the entire film. There’s something inherently dingy about certain film stocks, and the lack of polish in the image matches the lack of polish to the musical numbers. Everything’s just so “meh,” yet at the same time important enough to sing about.
Which works or it doesn’t, depending on who you are. For me, I think the entire piece comes together, slow pace and all, though I also think it wears out its welcome and could probably be half as long as it is. To do so would be to sacrifice a song or two, so I understand the reasoning behind leaving it as is, but so little really happens in the film, and that general narrative malaise doesn’t change much by the end, that it doesn’t justify its length much either.
Overall, It’s Nick’s Birthday is an interesting take on a naturalistic musical. Its tone and deliberate pacing are going to be the main determining factors on whether you find favor with it; the music and the rest all stems from those stylistic choices. For me, I liked the general idea, and for the most part how it all comes together, but felt like it was too long for its own good.
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