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Movie Review: ‘Barney’s Version’

February 19, 2011
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Every once in a while, you connect so deeply with a movie that it shakes you to your core. Thus was the case with Barney’s Version, a remarkable story about an unremarkable man. This movie made me do two things I have not done since I began reviewing films. About ten minutes into the film, I could tell it was something special, and I put down my notebook (which I’ve never done) because I did not want anything to interfere with the story unfolding before me. I just wanted to drink it in from beginning to end.

After I saw the movie, I sat in my car, and cried. Like big, huge, racking sobs that would not stop.  It was a full fifteen minutes before I was composed enough to drive home from the theater. The last time I had this kind of reaction to a movie was after I saw the traumatizing documentary Dear Zachary.  I cried for about three weeks after that.

But this is what movies are all about-how wonderful to find this hidden treasure that made me laugh, cry, and feel so deeply for the characters. I was emotionally devastated by this wonderfully quirky and unconventional love story.

Let’s be clear, Paul Giamatti was absolutely robbed of an Oscar nod this year, although he did win a Golden Globe for his role as Barney.  As far as I am concerned, Giamatti should officially be declared a national treasure. He is the only actor on earth who could have played this role so convincingly.

Barney’s Version spans four decades over the life and times of a one Barney Panofsky; a schlubby jewish man with a rapidly diminishing hairline who inexplicably does just fine with the ladies, thank you. He has few redeeming qualities and makes a living producing a god-awful Canadian television series. He smokes like a chimney, drinks constantly, and sabotages all his relationships. Strangely, you still come to care very deeply about this flawed man throughout the course of the movie.

You know the old adage “You can’t help who you fall in love with?”  Barney meets the love of his life at his second wedding reception. The fact that he leaves his own bride at the reception to pursue this woman (played by a lovely Rosamund Pike) is equal parts horrifying and terribly romantic.

The supporting cast is wonderful. Rachelle Lefevre plays tragic and troubled wife number one, Minnie Driver is his wealthy and overbearing Jewish princess-second wife, Dustin Hoffman plays his well intentioned father, and Scott Speedman is a longtime party pal who becomes part of a mystery integral to the story. I could have done without the mystery, but it does serve as the impetus for Barney’s reflection of his life.

Rosamund Pike is especially impressive in the film. She practically floats from scene to scene as Barney’s angelic third wife. It’s a bit hard to swallow that the sophisticated and beautiful woman would fall for the likes of Barney, especially after such strange circumstances, but it is testament to Barney’s absolute determination to win her love. He never gives up.

The end of the film is as bitter-sweet as you will ever see, and it ripped my heart out.  Some might find the film meandering and uneven, but such is life. I was completely taken in by this terrific film. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

The film takes place in Montreal, and several noted Canadians make brief appearances, including Atom Egoyan and David Cronenberg.  The film is directed by Richard J. Lewis (whose primary work has been in television) and was adapted from the book by Mordecai Richler. Screenwriter Michael Konyves manages a nice mix of humor and melancholy to bring Barney’s life to screen. A final nod to the makeup in the film. I thought it odd that the film got nominated for an Oscar for best makeup, but after seeing the film, I think it is justified. The decades flow seamlessly as we see Barney and Miriam age, and it is exceptional.

Rating 5/5

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13 Responses to “ Movie Review: ‘Barney’s Version’ ”

  1. Jamie on February 19, 2011 at 11:03 pm

    I absolutely agree with you 100%. I saw this movie a couple of hours ago and can’t stop thinking about it. Life isn’t perfect, but Giamatti’s performance was.

  2. Sandy Pister on February 19, 2011 at 11:49 pm

    Loved the movie!

    Paul Giamatti give an Oscar-caliber performance. Where was this movie last year?

  3. Ed Walsh on February 20, 2011 at 1:17 am

    Saw this movie about a month ago. Giamatti was wonderful,I never had much compassion for him at anytime during the movie but that’s what made the performance so special. The supporting cast was wonderful.

  4. Ozzie Alfonso on February 20, 2011 at 11:42 am

    There has never been a Giamatti performance I didn’t like, and Barney is no exception. I agree, there should have been an Academy nod, but “Barney” never got the high profile release it deserves, and it is up against very tough competition. I saw the film on a DVD sent to me from the WGA,DGA, or studio (along with a dozen others as usual.) Even looking at the stack of pre-relase screeners I got this year, Barney’s Version vanishes into the background. The DVD had no cover, no graphic, no mention of Giamatti; just a blank label with “Barney’s Version” in a dull black font. There are other two I received from Sony Pictures Classics – “Please Give” and “Get Low” – any thoughts on those? I’ve yet to watch them.

  5. Lew on February 20, 2011 at 11:57 am

    I went to its New York City premiere, having never even heard of it until earlier that day, and I was totally wiped out, similarly to Shannon Hood. I woke up twice that night, because I was so upset about an especially sad part of the film (despite its being fiction). I’ve since seen it a second time and intend to buy the DVD (you’re so lucky to have it, Ozzie). I’m also currently reading the novel.

  6. Pearl Sloane on February 20, 2011 at 6:22 pm

    I have always been moved by the films made from Mordecai Richler’s books. This was no exception; if anything, it was the best.
    When Paul Giamatti attempts to peel a banana from the wrong end, surely there cannot be a dry eye in the theater. The film was replete with such subtle touches.
    All the actors were great. Rosamond Pike is so luminously beautiful that Giamatti’s unbelievable pursuit of her is completely believable.

  7. Shannon Hood on February 20, 2011 at 9:03 pm

    Ozzie,
    I absolutely agree with your observations on the lack of push for this film. I didn’t even get a screener of this, and I can’t figure out why. What a shame. It’s such a deserving movie.
    I highly recommend “Please Give”. It was almost in my top ten this year. As for “Get Low”, it is not the greatest movie, but it is worth checking out for Robert Duvall’s performance.

  8. Jack Pennings on February 20, 2011 at 10:39 pm

    Hi I just saw the film and want to compliment you on your review. The film, Giamatti’s performance, and the book are all so brilliant.

  9. Stu on February 22, 2011 at 6:39 pm

    So what do you think the ball dropping from the water bomber signifies?

  10. Lew on February 25, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    Stu, it means that similarly to the ball, Boogie was picked up by the plane and then dropped onto the mountain in the same area that the ball was dropped. I read the novel after seeing the film twice, so that sort of helped. Here’s the entire screenplay: http://tinyurl.com/6h2es5s

  11. Donna D'Amico on February 27, 2011 at 9:44 pm

    I just saw the movie today, as soon as I realized that it hit SI. I dropped all of my plans and went out to see it! Other movies pale in comparison…I saw Black Swan, which blew me away. When I saw Barney’s Version, it also blew me away in an entirely different way! The laughter until you cried….and then you cried! What a profound performance by Giamotti! It is an absolute joke that he is not sitting out there in the Oscar audience, waiting to claim what is rightfully his! Let me end here, without even having commented on the numerous other and other details that pack this powerful film!

  12. Lew on February 28, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    Donna, I saw “The King’s Speech” and thought it was excellent. I thought Colin Firth was excellent, too, but Paul Giamatti, in “Barney’s Version,” was so much “better than” Firth. It’s just bizzare that he wasn’t nominated for the Best Actor Oscar.

  13. Stephenie on February 28, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    I loved this movie and Giamotti’s performance. I too saw Colin Firth and Paul Giamatti. Giamatti’s performance was superior. It was Oscar worth in my opinion

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