Film Review: BARNEY’S VERSION

Directed by Richard J. Lewis
Written by Mordecai Richler (novel) Michael Konyves (screenplay)
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Rosamnund Pike, Minnie Driver, Dustin Hoffman, Bruce Greenwood

I was a great fan of the novels of Mordecai Richler in the seventies and eighties. Set among the Jewish population in Montreal, they felt familiar after reading Bellow, Malamud, and Roth, but also more exotic because of the Canadian setting. A wonderful movie was made from The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz with Richard Dreyfuss if you’ve never seen it.

PLOT: Barney Panofsky (Giamatti) is at his wedding to his second wife (Driver, and very well played) when he meets the woman who will become the love of his life (Pike). He pursues her right from that moment, nearly taking the train with her back to New York. Much like in Blue Valentine, the eventual success of this relationship is enough for him. Although he’s a somewhat successful porn movie producer, that’s not what the movie is about because he cares little for his career. The movie is about how he screws up the most important relationship of his life by being a boor and a bore over a period of many years. He smokes cigars, drinks too much, and spends too many hours in bars watching hockey games, he insults his wife’s friends. He’s an unhappy fellow but we never quite understand why. His Dad, played by Dustin Hoffman, is swell; he has a nice life with a wife who loves him, despite these many flaws, two great kids—but clearly something is amiss.

Early on, you hear things about Barney that color your view of him for the rest of the picture. And when you learn the full story, you feel like you’ve been misled. I am not sure if this technique was used in the novel. I think I was supposed to like Barney more than I did. As a movie, Barney’s Version needed more of an arc than it had. Is it enough to lay out the life of an ordinary if somewhat obnoxious man, or does a better movie come from laying out just a few pivotal moments in a life like Blue Valentine did?

A note: In what I thought was clever casting, they found an actor that looked a lot like Dustin Hoffman to play Barney’s son. Turns out he’s Hoffman’s son, Jake.

Patti
Patti Abbott writes crime fiction short stories. She hosts a look at Forgotten Books every Friday with readers, writers and reviewers at http://www.pattinase.blogspot.com/ She hopes you’ll join in