Rik Cordero Antagonizes Feminist Film Theory With “Birthday Girl” Video

Rik Cordero’s video for the Roots’ rejected Patrick Stump cameo single is confusing. While it’s appropriately set at a birthday party, the logic seems to stop there.

The video stars existentialist porn star Sasha Grey as the titular birthday girl, who’s having a midday party in her formal dining room with two of her closest friends. Just as the things start to look boring, Cordero cuts to the doorway of the adjoining room, which is crowded with Los Angeles’ finest creepsters shooting their most discomforting furtive glances toward Sasha. And they’ve come bearing gifts. Very phallic gifts!

At first it seems as if Cordero might be taking the video in the pleasant hug-a-loser direction, but that sweetness is but an introduction to the birthday girl sitting on the floor and opening each dude’s gift as he stands above her, holding it at his crotch. One guy brought her a sausage! How sweet!

Cordero shoots the sequence in a more or less shot/reverse-shot pattern, but despite this lukewarm attempt at representing the female perspective, the sequence still comes off as uncomfortably misogynistic. That tight shot of the sausage hovering near her mouth lingers just a bit too long, and, furthermore, in all of the high-angle shots looking down at Grey opening the gifts she’s got her best come-hither face on, thus negating any potential emotional depth. Which would be an entirely acceptable stylistic choice if it didn’t seem as though Cordero were trying to make some sort of “statement.”

Of course the song is also about a relationship between a guy and a sexually precocious 17-year-old pretending to be 22, which, to be fair to Cordero, is duly represented, if a bit indirectly. Still, there’s a certain sadness–a tone of vague regret, even–in the song that seems jarringly absent from the video. “Birthday Girl” the song is about about the dubious advantages of growing up, and the room full of eager horny guys would seemingly indicate that Sasha’s character is about to be thrust into a world of sexual expectations that are perhaps beyond her years. But by sticking almost exclusively to the male gaze and presumably directing his actress to be seductive, Cordero fails to accurately convey the complex emotions of the situation. I suppose Sasha Grey’s up-for-it attitude could be interpreted as female empowerment, but I don’t think miming BJs on older men at a high school birthday party ever has made, or ever will make, any girl feel liberated. Perhaps I’m just closed-minded?

As for the last minute of the video, which is is mostly black-and-white security-camera footage of a film crew coming into the room and directing the characters around, I have no explanation. Perhaps Cordero is trying to tell us something postmodern about music videos, though I doubt it’s anything that complicated. It’s visually boring and has nothing to do with anything else. Couldn’t he have just shot a performance video set at a backyard BBQ and saved us all this trouble?