The basics: The film begins in Montreal in modern time with Barney (Paul Giamatti) appearing as a rather miserable alcoholic. It then jumps back to 1974 in Rome, Italy, where Barney is getting ready to get married because he's gotten Clara (Rachelle Lefevre) pregnant. When she delivers the still-born child, it's clear the baby isn't his. Quickly, wife #2 (Minnie Driver) enters. At their wedding reception, Barney meets Miriam (the divine Rosumind Pike) and falls in love.
My thoughts: The film jumps around in time over thirty-five years (it's also nominated for the Oscar for Best Makeup; it won't win because it's so subtly done, but it was genius). For the most part, it works, but there were times the narrative force wasn't strong enough to handle the audience already knowing the ending. There were a few mini-mysteries scattered throughout the supporting cast, such as the cop who believed Barney got away with murder (whom did he kill?) and Barney's daughter (with which wife?)
There's a sadness to the humor in Barney's Version. Yes, the three wives are a joke, but the acting is so good it's never forgotten that these are real people, which makes the events more tragic than comic. It's not a love story you can root for, so even the happy times are tinted with sadness because the film tells us the end before it begins.
I haven't read the novel, but it was clear the film is based on a novel. There were times I guessed things were left out because everything was significant, but not in the brilliant, visual way Sofia Coppola managed in Somewhere (my review). The foreshadowing was too over the top, which threw off the face of the film and made the sincere and touching ending seem surprising and out of place. Barney's Version seems like the classic example of the book is better than the film, and the film did make me want to read the book. There's a richness and rawness to these characters and their lives, and I wanted to enjoy it more than I did.
The verdict: Despite inspired performances from the cast (Giamatti deserved the Golden Globe), the film fell short as a whole. An emotional finish was not enough to save it from its uneven beginning and middle, but the performances do make it worth renting.
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Length: 129 minutes
Release date: It's playing in these theaters now and you can pre-order the dvd from Amazon
Source: I paid to see it the Spectrum Theatres
Fun trivia: Atom Egoyan playing the director of Barney's soap opera
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