Barney's Version (2010)
Barney’s Version is not an autobiographical film about the conspicuous purple singing dinosaur that has, over the last couple of decades, invaded the television screens of children around the world. Instead, it is a film account of a fictional character called Barney Panofsky, an overweight, charming jerk of a guy who is married thrice, works in a TV station, and basically leads a life of few ups and many downs. He is played by the brilliant character actor Paul Giamatti (Sideways, 2004; Cinderella Man, 2005) who effortlessly absorbs the odd qualities of his character and play them to close perfection.
Based on the novel by Mordecai Richler but heavily condensed to fit into a two-hour plus runtime, Barney’s Version is part comedy, part bittersweet drama about the things we treasure in our lives – friends, family, and the need to love and forgive. Directed by Richard J. Lewis (who is more prominent in television), the film is mostly a humor-filled exploration of life’s mundane events, but with Barney in the house, it is never the same, and things often go awry. While it starts out cheerful and occasionally whimsical, the film slowly reveals a more melancholic touch as it enters the second hour.
Much of the comedy is milked from the deadpan but sometimes fiercely exaggerated acting of Giamatti. He is supported by a scene-stealing performance by Dustin Hoffman, who plays his screen dad. While at times crude and vulgar, Barney’s Version remains an accessible film to watch. While there are some problems with pacing towards the end, and the relationship between Barney and his third wife, Miriam (Rosamund Pike) seems too idealized to be believable, Lewis’ film remains at the very least, consistently engaging, though this is due more in part to Giamatti’s excellent performance than anything else.Barney’s Version is not necessarily appealing to the masses, not only because it is a fictional story told as if it is a true story that not many would bother to care about, but also it is a film that seems to be oddly marketed to a small invisible crowd. While in my opinion the film experience is satisfactory at the most basic of levels, Barney’s Version is still a picture for curious cinephiles who want something different from conventional fare, but at the same time want something relatively congruous to their tastes. What’s with the Oscar nomination for Best Makeup anyway? That still baffles me.