By Admin | February 24, 2011

Barney’s Version is categorized by its creators as a comedy-drama, but it’s really more a mystery. After all, the movie recounts forty years in the life of a caustic, uncouth, seriously self-absorbed schlub who marries a succession of women each more beautiful than the last. How much of a schlub is he? He’s played by Paul Giamatti.

The question that pervades the picture is what do these women see in the guy. The intriguing thing is the question becomes harder to answer the better we get to know him. Based on the final novel by Mordecai Richler, the film introduces us to the character’s youthful incarnation as a Canadian ex-pat hanging out in bohemian Rome, scraping together a few lira by exporting olive oil and using the money in part to support a group of friends with artistic aspirations.

This is Barney at his most likable. His wig’s on the frightening side but the fellow himself is borderline endearing. His closest relationships are with a budding writer named Boogie (Scott Speedman) and an abusive bombshell (Rachelle Lefevre) who becomes pregnant and tricks him into marriage by telling him the baby is his.

Cut to middle age. Barney has returned to Montreal bringing with him Boogie and, thankfully, leaving behind that Chia Pet of a hairpiece. Boogie’s novel is no further along but his drug habit has progressed impressively. This becomes pertinent when Barney ties the knot with a monied princess played by Minnie Driver, the marriage sours driving her into the judgment-impaired best friend’s arms and, following a confrontation with Barney, Boogie perishes under circumstances so ingeniously scripted even Barney goes through life unsure whether he’s guilty of murder.

One reason the marriage didn’t work out, probably, is the fact that Barney fell madly in love with a gorgeous stranger at the wedding, even bolting from the reception to track her down at a train station and ask her out. By this point, our hero is a paunchy, balding, alcoholic producer of cheesy soap operas with zero social skills so the fact that Rosamund Pike’s Miriam eventually consents to be wife # 3 is the sort of miracle that would transform a lesser schlub into a new man. But not our Barney. She may be the love of his life but that doesn’t mean he won’t end up wrecking hers.

OK, The King’s Speech this isn’t. The human spirit does not triumph. Personal demons are not conquered. If anything, they not only prevail but do a victory lap in the final act as Barney descends into mental illness.

This is dark comedy done with considerable style. Giamatti earned a Golden Globe for his superbly nuanced performance and the picture’s up for-yikes!-a Best Make Up Oscar. The award season has shortchanged it, perhaps due to its dearth of inspirational themes and the bleakness it intersperses with its literate, blackly humorous elements. Nonetheless, it’s a totally immersing two hours plus at the multiplex, Giamatti-always watchable-is at the top of his game, the script by Michael Konyves does a splendid job of distilling the expansive source material into a pip of a screenplay and director Richard J. Lewis successfully makes the leap from series work (CSI) to serious work.

Did I mention Dustin Hoffman plays Barney’s father, a randy ex-cop? You know a movie has a lot going on when his participation is an asterisk. He’s memorable in a relatively minor part and it’s great to see him give his recent franchise sleepwalking a rest.

Even if he does die focking a hooker.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join our Film Threat Newsletter

Newsletter Icon