Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

At the outset of this movie ‘Barney’s Version’, we meet Barney, as played by everybody’s favorite everyman Paul Giamatti, and Barney looks to be a bit of an asshole. I mean this is a guy that calls his ex-wife in the middle of the night and says things to her current husband that causes the guy to have mild heart attacks, and does these things with very little remorse. Our opinion of Barney gets even lower when we see him at the bar and he is accosted by this old cop (Mark Addy) who has just written a tell all book about Barney with this cops burning question being ‘Where did you hide the body?’ So Barney is an asshole and a murderer? Seriously? But not so fast my friends because there is way more to Barney that what we’ve seen at the outset, and thus we need to get Barney’s version of things to know how everything really went down.

For instance, back in 1974, in The City of Lights, Barney married Clara (Rachelle Lefevre) because Barney believed that Clara was carrying his child. His best friend and author Boogie (Scott Speedman) advised him against this, in between doing drugs, but he went on and did it anyway. Turns out this baby, which tragically didn’t survive, wasn’t his due the baby’s dark pigmentation, which led Barney giving his other good friend Cedric (Che Bennett) a knuckle sandwich. My only issue with Barney punching this guy would be is Cedric the only black guy in Paris that could’ve had sex with this woman? Apparently Clara was a community dipping well so… I’m just saying. Probably owes Cedric an apology.

Anyway that situation ends badly for everybody leading Barney back home to Montreal where he will become a successful producer of soap operas and meets his next wife (Minnie Driver), the only issue is that on the their wedding day Barney spies his true love Miriam (Rosemund Pike) who Barney will pursue relentlessly, despite the fact he’s a married man and Miriam has made it crystal clear that she will have nothing to do with married men.

Without giving away the reasons why, eventually Barney will be able to unite with Miriam… note that that troublesome dead body appears in between all of this… and life couldn’t be any better for Barney Parnofsky. He is successful, he has managed to snag the love of his life that looks to be a few notches above his pay grade, plus he and his wife have two beautiful children and Barney also has the undying love of his beloved father (Dustin Hoffman). But even though Barney’s not quite the asshole we were introduced to, he’s still not perfect. He drinks too much, he’s a little insensitive when it comes to his wife’s emotional needs and this wife of his did make one tiny stipulation on their relationship. And apparently there’s no wiggle room on this. Now Barney no longer has the love his life in his life, and Barney has become the asshole that we were introduced to in the beginning of the movie. But now we understand, and even still we can’t be too hard on Barney because his version cleared up a lot of the confusion we may have had.

Before I say anything, I must say that I was amazed while watching this movie how much that young man playing Barney’s adult son looked like a young Dustin Hoffman. Turns out it was Mr. Hoffman’s son Jake. While I’m sure there was some female involvement in the birthing of that child, if someone were to tell me that young Jake was cloned from Dustin’s fingernail clippings, I’d believe it.

Superfluous nonsense aside, ‘Barney’s Version’, directed by Richard J. Lewis, is a very fine film and it’s made a fine film largely on the strength of Paul Giamatti’s performance in this film who is in virtually every single scene in this movie. One might wonder how a man, one who looks like Barney, with Barney’s emotional limitations, could systematically marry these three amazing looking women, but this is part of the charm of the story with all of the credit for this placed on the study shoulders of Mr. Giamatti. Barney’s no player, his game is suspect and he’s easily taken advantage of, traits which made Barney prey to his first two wives with only his one true love willing and able to accept Barney for what he is. Thus we have our semi-tragic love story. Maybe Miriam made it too easy for Barney, because we can’t fathom why Barney would do this thing to jeopardize this relationship he cherishes so much. Of course I personally thought it was a forgivable offense, but I’m not Miriam. And some of the boorish things Barney did we could understand. Somewhat. Barney was rude to Miriam’s friends, but Barney knows, and Miriam should’ve known, that one of these friends (Bruce Greenwood) has eyes on his woman. I’d probably be an asshole too. Clearly I relate far too closely to Barney Parnosfky, and this is probably not a good thing.

The performances supporting Paul Giamatti in this film were universally excellent, the writing was crisp and clever, the story was well executed and the emotion was genuine. Certainly one of the better movies I’ve seen this year and probably a film that should be seen if only to witness Paul Giamatti doing what he does about as well as any actor ever. Uh… that’s being a normal person, if you have to ask.

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