Barney’s Version

Dir: Richard J. Lewis

Rating: 1.8/5.0

Sony Pictures Classics

132 Minutes

My first reaction after finishing Barney’s Version, was complete bafflement. Is it a murder mystery? A love story? An Alzheimer’s drama? Even if it’s all of those things combined, the film, based on Mordecai Richler’s novel, does none of them well. Starring Paul Giamatti as the curmudgeonly Barney Panofsky, a Jewish-Canadian television producer, Barney’s Version is an overlong mess. Following Barney through three unsuccessful marriages, the film never really establishes itself as anything more than a minor character piece, though it appears to have higher aspirations.

The movie begins in the present day as a just-published book re-opens a years-old murder case involving the toad-like producer. Michael Konyves’ script then flashes back to 1974 Rome where Barney is an olive oil-exporting ex-pat who spends his evenings hanging around with a gang of friends that includes the eternally soused Boogie (Scott Speedman). Then he meets and marries another ex-pat (Rachelle Lefevre), moves back to Canada once she kills herself, meets and marries an annoying and nameless JAP (Minnie Driver), meets Miriam (Rosamund Pike) at his wedding to said JAP, pursues her and once he is divorced, marries and loses her. Meanwhile, Boogie vanishes and Barney is accused of his murder. But no one really cares about that because it is pushed to the peripheries of the film.

Giamatti continues his irascible Harvey Pekar/sad sack loser from Sideways act as the petulant Barney. While Barney may have a tough exterior, he is a romantic at heart. If anything goes well in this film, it’s Giamatti’s ability to portray both Barney’s tough guy exterior and vulnerable innards. But Giamatti could play this part in his sleep and Lewis and Konyves make it really hard to give a shit about him.

The supporting characters are interesting but really nothing more than tiny satellites to Barney. Dustin Hoffman, continuing the small time character role cameos that have kept him afloat this past decade, is amusing as Barney’s gauche policeman father and Pike digs in as the sympathetic Miriam. However, Driver is flat and irritating and Bruce Greenwood pops up in an underwritten role as the guy who steals Miriam away from Barney.

It is impossible to define Barney’s Version. There are comedic moments that fall short and the sorrow that runs throughout the film borders on bathos. By the time Barney is stricken with dementia near the film’s end, I didn’t care. Suicide is trivialized. So are murder, divorce, infidelity and cruelty. If I was Barney, I would want to forget this movie too.

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