Paul Giamatti brings to life a witty, vain and frustrated romantic in the sardonic comedy Barney’s Version. The actor won a Golden Globe for this performance (Comedy/Musical), but was passed over for an Oscar nomination. Barney’s Version is now playing at Hartford area theaters.
We first meet Barney Panofsky sowing his wild oats in Rome and entering into a shotgun marriage with manic beauty Clara (Rachelle Lefevre in a brief, memorable role).
In a fast forward to Barney’s middle years in Canada, the antihero makes TV soap operas for Totally Unnecessary Productions. His first marriage is over. Cranky and exasperated, he works for a paycheck. Barney’s soap opera is like Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, minus any social relevance.
Next he snags a sexy, rich Jewish beauty (Minnie Driver like we’ve never seen her, marvelous and shrill). Barney’s wise-cracking Dad, retired cop Izzy Panofsky, congratulates him on his choice. Dustin Hoffman’s Izzy is side-splitting as he accompanies his boychick to dinner with the new fiancée and her parents.
The downward spiral of the second Mrs. Panofsky from pre- to post-wedding is sharp. Barney knows he is in for a rough patch once again. Drinking heavily at the reception, he steals off to watch a hockey championship with his buddies, including Boogie (Scott Speedman). Izzy urges Barney to be smart and hang on to his wealthy new mate.
In a great comedic turning point, Barney sets eyes on Miriam (soulful realist Rosamund Pike) at his own wedding reception. He introduces himself. She’s smart, honest and witty. He can’t believe his luck. He’s finally met the woman of his dreams.
Giamatti makes the most of the unlikely discovery. Barney flees his own wedding. He finds Miriam in her seat moments before her train leaves for New York City. Giamatti is superb in his romantic declaration.
The rest of Barney’s Version unfolds with realism, warmth and satisfying plot twists. Barney can be crass and blistering, sexist yet vulnerable. Giamatti renders him lovable, especially as the mature character looks back on his life. Finally, he’s a better man than his actions reveal.
Barney is a lovingly created prototype of Jewish Canadian novelist Mordecai Richler and Saul Bellow’s Moses Herzog. Richler’s excellent novel Barney’s Version paints a more rollicking, in-your-face character than Giamatti’s introspective drinker.
Director Richard J. Lewis and writer Michael Konyves have crafted an admirable screenplay, although a subplot about a murder investigation is distracting and unneeded on film.
Canadian new wave filmmakers Atom Egoyan, David Cronenberg and Denys Arcand add depth and whimsy in cameo appearances. Director Lewis appears briefly as a pathologist.
If you liked Barney’s Version, you might enjoy: A Serious Man; Greenberg; Crazy Heart.
Barney’s Version 2010 / R / 2 hours, 12 min
Cast Overview: Paul Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman, Rosamund Pike, Minnie Driver, Rachelle Lefevre, Scott Speedman, Bruce Greenwood
Director: Richard J. Lewis
Genres: Comedy, Romance, Movie Based on the Book