Barney’s Version is a
cinematic memoir of the life of Barney Panofsky played with great sensitivity
by Paul Giamatti, who perfectly captures the essence of his character, a man who is at once irascible
and likeable, if not lovable. His father, played by Dustin Hoffman, is a
standout as the coarse beat cop who never fails to embarrass Barney at every
turn. Barney has stepped up a class as a successful businessman who owns Totally
Unnecessary Productions, but his dad is blissfully unaware that his blue collar
manners will not cut it with the upper crust.
Never mind, Barney loves him anyway.
Barney relates “the true story of my wasted life” recounting
his three failed marriages beginning with Clara (Rachelle Lefevre), whom he marries because she is supposedly pregnant
with his child. But Barney is shocked to
find that his offspring is of a different ethnic origin. The doctor tells him that “unless the real father
is albino” this could not be his child.
Exit wife number one.
His second wife, played by Minnie Driver, is the consummate
Jewish princess, a shopaholic and a shrew, who constantly reminds him that she is his intellectual superior because of her
master’s degree. When Barney finds her in bed with his drunken best friend, he
happily initiates divorce number two.
His third wife, and the love of his life, is the luminous
Miriam (Rosamund Pike). She is tranquil,
sophisticated, beautiful, and speaks in the hushed tones of an NPR
interviewer. The irony is that he meets
her during his own wedding to the second Mrs. P, and falls immediately,
hopelessly in love with her, even going so far as to suggest they elope
together despite it being the eve of his honeymoon.
Post divorce, Barney succeeds
in winning Miriam after bombarding her with an avalanche of flowers and phone
calls. She finally agrees to lunch with
him on the pretext that he will cease his unrelenting pursuit if she decides to
end it. Blessedly, they do connect and
have a good marriage which only erodes slowly over time because of Barney’s
lack of consideration, his obsession with hockey (this is a Canadian film after
all) and the appearance of a co-worker in her life. You know the minute he steps into the frame
that Blair (Bruce Greenwood) and Mariam are perfect for each other, and Barney
can only wear beige and sit in the back seat.
So ends marriage number three.
There are subplots involving an accidental murder, and a
creeping case of dementia, but this is Barney’s story. It is the story of everyman whose life can be
summed up by the good and the bad of a mundane existence. The film is based on a novel of the same name
by Mordecai Richler. It is comic and
sadly tragic at the same time. It has
been critically acclaimed as one of the best films of 2010, and deserves your
time and attention if you’re interested in hearing Barney’s version.
Giamatti won the Golden Globe award for
best actor in a musical or comedy.