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Movie Review: Barney's Version

Updated on March 12, 2011
Mighty Mom profile image

Mighty Mom is a keen observer of life. She shares her personal experiences and opinions in helpful and often amusing ways.

Who needs :rolleyes: when we've got Barney?
Who needs :rolleyes: when we've got Barney?

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.

Izzy being Izzy -- right before he gets "shut off" at Barney's wedding.
Izzy being Izzy -- right before he gets "shut off" at Barney's wedding.

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.

Isn't Miriam lovely?
Isn't Miriam lovely?

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.

Final comment

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


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    • Happyboomernurse profile image

      Gail Sobotkin 

      7 years ago from South Carolina

      Love your review of this quirky, independent movie. I was reading the review AFTER I'd seen the movie and I think you did an excellent job enumerating the pros and cons and complexities of it.

      Dustin Hoffman's portrayal of Izzy was by far the best part of this movie.

      All the characters were memorable, flawed, and at times painful to watch because of their self-destructive behavior. I agree that it was difficult to see what Miriam saw in Barney, but I loved her character and thought in all other respects her character was well developed.

      I'm not surprised that your younger movie companion had a totally different response to this movie than you did. I think it would appeal more to people who have lived through the difficulties of raising a family, attempting to make a relationship work on a long term basis and/or have dealt with addictive issues. I felt however, after all was said and done, that the movie was so realistic that it made me feel depressed for a few hours afterwards.

      I feel the most important lesson of this film is a warning to women not to fall in love with a man who drinks too much, tries to pick them up at his marriage to another woman and looks slovenly. It's a sure-fire recipe for a hard life.

      Voted this review up, useful and interesting.

    • The Jet profile image

      The Jet 

      7 years ago from The Bay

      Johnny Depp is one a kind. He can pretty slip into any role and make it his own. From Edward Scissorhands to Jeffrey Sands (Once Upon a Time in Mexico) to Sweeney Todd and my favorite Depp movie currently Public Enemies, where he played John Dillinger. Yeah, I'm digressing too. Hahah. Top notch actor.

      Thanks for the step-by-step instruction! I will do so once I've seen Barney's Version. Have an awesome day.

    • Mighty Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Reid 

      7 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      Donnie Brasco! Now you got my heart thumpin. Johnny Depp is the coolest. Absolutely stellar actor. Funny as hell at Jack Sparrow.

      But I digress...

      To put a link in a hub. Select add a "link" capsule. In another window, find the URL of what you want to include as a link. In this case, my hub.

      Copy the URL into the link capsule.

      You can write a title and description referencing that this is Mighty Mom's hub about the same movie...

      Click Save.

      You can move the Link capsule around to where you want it (just like you do text and photo and other capsules).

      I hope this was not too elemenary!

      So get out there and see the movie. And write about it!

    • The Jet profile image

      The Jet 

      7 years ago from The Bay

      When I see it, I'll try to write a review. How do we link reviews to each other's?

      Paul Giamatti earned his spotlight. He appeared in several small roles before big roles. I remember he was randomly in Donnie Brasco and Saving Private Ryan. Didn't know he was in a John Adams series. Thanks!

      I will check out this Win/Win trailer. Cold Souls was interesting as well.

    • Mighty Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Reid 

      7 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      I will be interested to hear your thoughts on this film. Maybe you will write a review and we can link to each other's!

      Paul Giamatti IS awesome. He seems to be getting more spotlight these days. I loved him in the John Adams miniseries. And there's another PG movie out called Win/Win that is getting good reviews. I saw the preview and will see it when it comes out on video...

    • The Jet profile image

      The Jet 

      7 years ago from The Bay

      Ooh. I saw the trailer to this awhile ago. Paul Giamtti is awesome. From American Splendor to Cinderella Man and Shoot 'Em Up -- he's awesome. After reading this review, I have to watch it now. Cool hub.

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 

      7 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Saw the movie. It's a scream. Did a review also.

    • Mighty Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Reid 

      7 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      Hi brianlokker. Thanks! I'm nothing if not opinionated!

      I will be interested to see if men react differently to it than I did. Enjoy!! MM

    • brianlokker profile image

      Brian Lokker 

      7 years ago from Bethesda, Maryland

      I like your reviewing style and your literate writing. The film was on my list, but I'm moving it up after reading your review and recommendation.

    • Mighty Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Reid 

      7 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      It hasn't gotten any marketing play at all. I wouldn't have known about it except I saw the preview. It's at the "arty" theatre here and may have limited distribution.

      Definitely something to rent.

      And don't get me wrong -- lots of really funny lines and scenes! Especially Dustin Hoffman. Barney himself, tho, is tough to watch (great performance, flawed character).

      I hope you enjoy, Jeff! MM

    • Jeff Berndt profile image

      Jeff Berndt 

      7 years ago from Southeast Michigan

      This film wasn't even on my radar screen before I read this review. Now it'll get on my TV screen when I rent it. Thanks!

    • Mighty Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Reid 

      7 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      Hey lady! Haven't seen you in quite while. Hope all's well in your world. Great to see you. Enjoy the movie!!

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      7 years ago from Sunny Florida

      Thanks for the great review of this movie. I hope to get out to see it if it sounds pretty good.

    • Mighty Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Reid 

      7 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      alekhouse -- Yes, knowing your sensibilities, this is right up your alley.

      Mickey Dee -- Thanks. Take a break from your biking and go see it! I think you'd enjoy...

      Cogerson -- PG is really coming on strong recently, isn't he? I didn't like Sideways but not because of his performance!

      Mentalist acer -- I've known quite a few Barneys myself. I suppose Barney's pursuit of Miriam was an act of self-preservation. Without her stability, he never would have achieved the "Leave It to Beaver" life. Which, of course, he couldn't sustain, could he? Good analysis, tho! thanks.

      The Quiz Master -- Wow! You have made my day! Thanks! If only I could find someone who wanted to pay for my unlearned opinions :-)

    • The Quiz Master profile image


      7 years ago from England

      Great review, you should do this for a living!

    • Mentalist acer profile image

      Mentalist acer 

      7 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

      I've known a couple of Barneys,though,entering adulthood erratically then having a "leave it to beaver life" in the end,so far.I could to one of them to this movie and show him how his life could've turned out.;)

    • Cogerson profile image


      7 years ago from Virginia

      Being a huge Paul Giamatti fan, I can say this was right behind Sideways as one of his greatest performances. Good review.

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 

      7 years ago

      Nice review. Thank you!

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 

      7 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      Nice review...sounds like a good movie. I love Paul Giamatti. I'll have to see this. Thanks.

    • Mighty Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Reid 

      7 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      FP! It is always delightful to see you! I hope you will enjoy the film. There is much to recommend it. It's very funny in spots. But oh so painful in spots as well...

    • Mighty Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Reid 

      7 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      Thanks, Ralph.

      Giamatti's performance is stealar. Hoffman has a blast --Izzy is the perfect role for him. Minnie Driver is pitch perfect as a Jewish princess! And Rosamund Pike is a fabulous actress with great credentials as well.

      I'll be interested to hear a male perspective.

      I'm a bit behind on my Oscar winners viewing as well. Gotta see The Fighter. I hear True Grit is great (as much as I disagree with messing with a classic).

      Please do write a review of Blue Valentine!! My attempt to see it ended up with disappointment. Thought we were catching the matinee and it turned out they only show matinees on the weekend. I've not tried to go back. I'll rent it.

      Also want to see Black Swan before it leaves theatres and Winter's Bone should already be out on DVD and that's on my list. As is Biutiful....

      So many great movies!!!

      Thanks for commenting. Let me know how you like (or don't) this flick. MM

    • profile image

      Feline Prophet 

      7 years ago

      I enjoy your movie reviews, MM...hadn't even heard of 'Barney's Version' till a few days back...and now I am determined to watch it! :)

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 

      7 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Great review! Based on your review and the cast--Giamatti, Hoffman and Driver, I've added it to my list after "The Fighter," "True Grit," and "Inception."

      I saw "Blue Valentine" over the holiday in Berkeley. It was a bit of a downer but well done. Maybe I'll get around to writing a review. Have you seen it? I'd be interested in your take.


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