"Barney's Version" Humanizes Barney
Though the film runs at 2 hours and 12 minutes, viewers will hardly notice the time and will instead be engrossed with the brilliance and depth of the story as well as Paul Giamatti’s acting.
The story comes from Mordecai Richler’s 1997 book of the same name and adapted into a screenplay by Michael Konyves.
There’s no plot really, more like a guided tour showing the arc of Barney Panofsky’s life. Barney’s best friend Boogie, played by the charming Scott Speedman, provides the thread that weaves the story together in a loose murder mystery, but it’s actually Barney’s three ex-wives that illuminate the edges and soft parts of his psyche.
They are the docents to the ebb and flow of his vicissitudes.
Clara Charnofsky (Rachelle Lefevre), Barney’s first wife, is beautiful but damaged. She marks his time period in Rome as a young man, when he marries her because he thinks the child she’s carrying is his.
Just one look at Barney’s face and you know how miserable he’ll be for the rest of his life if he stays with her. Clara is flamboyant, impulsive and crazy, but circumstances later reveal that underneath her nut job persona lies a vulnerable and very misunderstood girl. But, like most things in life, Barney realizes this too late.
Boogie inadvertently helps him get out of his marriage to the “2nd Mrs. P.” She has no first name and not much personality either. She’s the stereotypical Jewish American (or in this case, Canadian) princess, but Minnie Driver manages to breathe just enough humanity in her character so that you see how awful Barney can be.
The 2nd Mrs. P talks a lot and is annoying for sure, but she’s also smart and in love with him. When he talks to her condescendingly she asks, “Do I talk down to you like that?” He treats her poorly because his affections are with his future wife, Miriam (Rosamund Pike), who he met on his wedding day to the 2nd Mrs. P.
Viewers may compare Barney Panofsky to Miles Raymond in “Sideways,” both acted by Giamatti. “Barney’s Version” producer Robert Lantos said in a press release that he cast Giamatti solely for his acting in “Sideways,” but Barney’s character feels fuller.
Miles and Barney have many similarities, but it’s Barney’s faults (and he has many) that makes his life more interesting. His heartlessness is immeasurable, but so is his kindness.
Rosamund Pike is luminous and almost other worldly as the love of his life, Miriam. She’s perfect in every way, and even her perfection feels unattainable, as if no woman really exists like that in the world except in his clouded memory.
The other love of Barney’s life is his father, Izzy (Dustin Hoffman), and what else can be said about Hoffman except that he’s brilliant. Izzy is a tough but sweet retired policeman, and his bond with Barney is so strong, you wonder why and how Barney turned out the way he did. There was so much love between them; it’s hard to believe anyone could have come out cruel from that.
In the book “Barney’s Version,” Barney said to his son that “life was absurd, and nobody ever truly understood anybody else.” The film exposes all of Barney’s layers underneath, and though you may not fully like him in the end, you’ll understand who he is and know by the way he lived his life that it wasn’t anything close to absurd.