Friday, February 25, 2011

movie review: Barney's Version

Barney's Version (Movie Tie-in Edition)The backstory: Paul Giamatti won a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy for his role in Barney's Version, a film based on the novel by Mordecai Richler.

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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  1. I really like Paul Giamatti, and am sorry to hear that this movie was not all that successful with you. I do think the plot sounds interesting, and I think I would rather like to read the book that inspired the movie. Thanks for sharing your thoughtful perceptions with us on this one.

  2. Oh wasn't the make-up fantastic though?! I was really blown away by how well they executed that.

    And I adored the character of Miriam. She was so smart and beautiful.. I just couldn't figure out what it was about Barney that attracted her (besides possibly his obsession with her?).

    I left the movie not entirely clear about what happened with his friend that day at the lake. Are you clear on that?

  3. P.S. the link to your review of Somewhere keeps taking me to the Book Depository.

  4. I saw the movie after reading the book just last fall, so it was still pretty fresh in my head. I thought they did a great job of the movie, but the book had so much more, obviously. Minnie Driver was excellent as the second Mrs Panofsky - I liked her much more in the movie. I left the movie thinking Miriam and Barney were one of the great love stories in literature.

    There were lots of great Canadian character actors in the movie, which made it even more fun for me. I think there was another movie director cameo in the movie, but I don't know who.

    I thought they were pretty clear about what happened to the friend at the lake. It was a great reveal in the book at the end, so maybe because I knew, it seemed clearer?


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