Quentin Tarantino’s first film My Best Friend’s Birthday serves as a concentrated outline of the successful career he would go on to have. It’s episodic structure, hyperactive dialogue and great soundtrack are all distinctly Tarantino. Strangely, despite the fact that the director’s ventures into acting are notoriously lacking, Tarantino’s acting in his flagship film is actually a real strength.
My Best Friend’s Birthday is a comedy in which Tarantino’s character Clarence Pool tries to give his best friend Mickey a birthday to remember. His attempts backfire in hilarious fashion. This is an impressive bit of filmmaking considering the tiny budget and the fact that it’s a debut featuring a handful of acting class hopefuls. Clarence is a radio host at K-Billy radio (which returns in Reservoir Dogs) and the film opens with Tarantino telling a story about being suicidal when he was three, the punch-line being that he decided against it because he didn’t want to miss ‘The Partridge Family’ on TV. This sets the tone for the rest of the film, which shares Tarantino’s odd sense of humour that audience’s are familiar with.
Tarantino’s comedic timing is spot on in this film. Particular highlights include asking a call girl “What made you interested in prostitution as a career goal?”, stating that he didn’t mind being a shoe salesmen at K-Mart so much because he has foot fetish, being told that his poem about friendship is too long to fit on a cake and a hilarious fight scene between Mickey and Misty Knight’s pimp (whose name is Clifford!) where Clifford’s posturing includes a grasshopper pose and Mickey rolls his eyes and knocks him out.
Not only is the film genuinely funny, it’s also well executed. You can really see that Tarantino would go on to great things, when the pimp adorably named Clifford is shot from a low angle making him fill the frame, perfectly balances his blocking as he is pointing threateningly at Mickey and says “Your ass is grass and I’m the lawnmower!” you’d be forgiven for thinking this great sequence must be from one of his later films.
If you’re an avid Tarantino fan, you may recognise several of the cast members from his later films. Stevo Polyi and Rich Turner play sheriffs in Reservoir Dogs, Linda Kaye appears as a shocked extra and Craig Hamann’s voice plays on the radio. In Pulp Fiction, Brenda Hillhouse plays Butch’s mother and Rich Turner is a sportscaster. Steve Polyi appears in Kill Bill Volumes I and II in an uncredited part. Liutenant Aldo Raine gets his name from the fake name Clarence Pool gives on the phone in Tarantino’s first venture into directing. Misty Knight settles on the iconic pose that later appears in Pulp Fiction to seduce Mickey.
At just 36 minutes, this film is a must-see for any Tarantino fan or anyone interested in cinema. If you liked True Romance, you’ll enjoy its blueprint. Why not check out True Romance this coming Monday at the Sugar Club and compare it to My Best Friend’s Birthday.