Movie Review: Barney's Version
I saw the preview for this film when I went to see "The King's Speech." It looked like the kind of quirky, offbeat movie I gravitate towards. I had gained a ton of respect for Paul Giamatti watching the mini-series "John Adams" (which was actually directed by Tom Hooper, who won Best Director for "The King's Speech.")
Things I knew about the film going in
I knew Paul Giamatti plays the leading role, Barney. I knew that Barney meets the love of his life at his wedding (and she ain't the bride!). Perhaps this occurs more often than we might think. But I thought it a very unusual premise for a movie.
In short, I didn't have ultra high expectations for the movie.
Cast and Production Notes
Adapted from the book "Barney's Version" by Canadian Mordecai Richler (1997), the third in a trilogy that also includes two other novels made into movies: "The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz" (1974) and "Joshua Then and Now" (1985).
Paul Giamatti = Barney Panofsky
Rosamund Pike = Miriam (love of Barney's life, third Mrs. P)
Minnie Driver = "The Second Mrs. P"
Rachelle Lefevre = Clara (the first Mrs. P)
Scott Speedman = Boogie (Barney's best friend)
Dustin Hoffman = Izzy Panofsky (Barney's irrepressible dad)
A brief plot summary
First of all, I have to tell you there is no "plot" per se. This is the chronicle of the life of Barney Panofsky. It is a cinematic autobiography of a character who is fictional, but who could very well be real. It is narrated by Barney and is subtitled "the true story of a wasted life."
We are first introduced to Barney as a young 20-something. With his arty pals he's living the bohemian high life in 1970s Rome. He gets married (although we wish he wouldn't). It doesn't work out. Barney's romantic illusions and forthright nature crash head first into the truth. We think Barney has learned his lesson. But of course he hasn't.
Next Barney returns to his native Montreal. He meets his second wife and her rich parents. He has a lavish Jewish wedding. At the wedding his attention is riveted by a gorgeous stranger. He talks with her. He tries to get on the train with her back to New York. It doesn't work out.
But Barney is persistent. He has met the woman of his dreams and he is not going to let a little thing like marriage get in the way.
Circumstances conspire. Some for Barney. Some against Barney. He disengages himself form his horrible wife in a truly ingenious way. He is now free to pursue Miriam. He does.
For reasons that I will never understand, Miriam responds to Barney. Perhaps she is flattered by all his attention. Perhaps he has worn her down with weekly flower deliveries and phone calls. She welcomes Barney into her heart. They get married.
They live happily. But not ever after. Barney being Barney, he has to sabotage his perfect marriage.
There are some sub "non plots" going on as well. There's Barney and his heroin addict friend Booger, who disappears in the lake. There's Barney's nemesis, the hard-boiled cop intent on proving to the world that Barney got away with murder. And there's Barney's relationship with Izzy, who acts more like a randy frat boy than a father.
Things I liked
1. Dustin Hoffman as Barney's dad. He's a widower having, shall we say, a sexual resurgence in his old age. He says whatever comes into his head. He is comical and often oafish, but also caring and wise. If you are a Dustin Hoffman fan you'll want to see this movie just for him. His character is a cross between "Rainman" and "Meet the Fockers."
2. The scenery & cinematography. It's been decades since I've been to Montreal, so at first didn't recognize the city. In researching the story I found out that Mordecai Richler is Canadian and Montreal's "Jewish ghetto" is a frequent setting of his novels. The scenes shot at Barney's country house on the lake are stunning, too.
3. The makeup. In the span of 2 hours we get to see Barney age from his 20s to his 60s in a very realistic (which is to say, not flattering) way. His wife ages as well, but a heck of a lot more gracefully.
Things I didn't like
1. The believability factor. I'm sorry, but I had trouble swallowing that this gorgeous, together woman would give Barney the time of day. Endearing, he's not. And he becomes less appealing with age. Comparisons to "Beauty and the Beast" come to mind. And no, she did NOT marry him for his money!
2. Barney's guy friends. Again, I'm sure this happens, but do men really stay best friends with guys who sleep with their women? Barney does.
3. The drinking. Admittedly, I am hyper-sensitive to excessive indulging. And yes, I "get" the metaphor of drinking = self-destruction. But still and all, the amount of booze Barney consumes during the movie made my liver ache in sympathy! Oh well, it's a good cautionary tale. Drowning your sorrows doesn't solve them. It only makes them worse.
Paul G as John A
Random comments/things I learned
1. Canadian Jews (as portrayed here, anyway) are just like American Jews. Which is not to say they are all alike. Barney's father is an ex-cop. Barney is in the entertainment (television production) business. How classic is that? And Minnie Driver's character is the quintessential JAP (or I guess that would be JCP -- Jewish CANADIAN Princess). All I can say about that is, "Oy veh!"
2. Men screw women over. Men screw each other over. Women screw men over. At any given time, you can be the screwer or the screwee. Lots of bad karma coming and going in this movie.
3. Life is complicated. No one is perfect. We are all human. We all have strengths and vulnerabilities. We are capable of great devotion -- and even greater stupidity. We can love someone with our whole heart and still hurt them and ourselves. In the end, we get old and sick. If we're lucky, when our time comes, we still have people who love us.
By the end of the movie I was tearing up. Not sobbing, but definitely more than dewy-eyed. My movie companion, who is young enough to be my daughter, was unscathed.
When the credits finished rolling, I turned to her and said, "Well, I'll just go and slit my wrists now." She laughed and said, "Oh, did you think it was sad? I didn't!"
I said, "That's because you haven't had all of those things happen to you -- yet."
I suppose my reaction means it's a good movie. I can't say I "liked" it. But I related to it. Not to Barney, not to his wives, not to their kids. But I related to the unfolding of Barney's life right before my eyes. An imperfect life, for sure. But definitely not "wasted."
Go see it, or better yet, rent it. It's not something that demands to be viewed on the big screen. Enjoy! And please stop back after you see it and let me know your reaction.
Thanks for reading my review! MM
Movie Review by Ralph Deeds
- Barney's Version Movie Review
Barney's Version is a comedy based on Mordecai Richler's novel which cover's Barney Panofsky's life as a young man in Rome with his boozed and druggy artist and writer friends, his three marriages and three...