Barney's Version (2010) / Drama-Comedy
MPAA rated R for language and some sexual content
Running time: 134 min.
Cast: Paul Giamatti, Rosamund Pike, Dustin Hoffman, Minnie Driver, Rachel Lefevre, Scott Speedman, Bruce Greenwood, Macha Grenon
Director: Richard J. Lewis
Screenplay: Michael Konyves (based on the novel by Mordecai Richler)
Review published January 4, 2012
The late Mordecai Richler's 1997 novel provides the groundwork for this dramedy adaptation starring Paul Giamatti (Fred Claus, The Nanny Diaries) as the titular Montreal television producer Barney Panofsky, a man who has suffered through one tragic marriage with a free-spirited young woman in Italy (Lefevre, Twilight) who turns up carrying another man's child only to get himself into another loveless one with a well-to-do Jewish-American princess (Driver, Ella Enchanted), while he only has eyes for a woman he barely knows in another part of the country (Pike, Surrogates). The film covers nearly four decades of Barney's life, starting with marriage #1 in the 1970s, bookended by a possible murder mystery involving Barney himself as the alleged culprit.
Fans of the Richler work and of Paul Giamatti, who would go on to garner a Golden Globe for his fine performance, in general should find more to love than the common viewer, as the character of Barney himself is flawed and not particularly fun to watch as he goes through bouts of alcoholism, depression, philandering and narcissism that has you questioning just how such lovely women could ever fall for him. He's the kind of jerk husband who'd rather watch a hockey game than support his wife's career. Dustin Hoffman (Kung Fu Panda, Mr. Magorium) chips in with a large supporting role as Barney's spirited retired cop father, Izzy.
At two hours and fifteen minutes, Barney's version runs rather long despite the wide scope of the man's life. There appears to be a build-up to something involving whether Barney was responsible for the death of a missing friend, Boogie, but the film strays from that much of the time until it is finally revisited and we wonder just what the story is supposed to be about once the credits roll. There is quite a bit to cram in, just not enough of the good stuff from a cinematic standpoint. Spun in the rolling yarn of a book the nuance might make for an entertaining read, but in a film it lacks the narrative structure and shape, not to mention the lack of interesting characters, that makes for a truly compelling viewing.
©2012 Vince Leo