A bit of a delay in this review, but I guess better late than never. I wasn’t quite sure going in what to expect from Barney’s Version, a drama starring Paul Giamatti as a man who, based on the snippets from the trailer, likes his ladies. That was pretty much all I knew.
Well, I admit I was surprisingly impressed with Barney’s Version by the time the credits rolled. Based on the 1997 novel of the same name by Mordecai Richler, Barney’s Version is a crafty, captivating film bolstered by some superb performances. Paul Giamatti is brilliant as Barney Panofsky, an unlikely ladies’ man who recalls his unusual and highly interesting life through various flashbacks dating back to the 1970s. I won’t say much more about the plot because it’s the type of film where you don’t really know where it’s heading but you just go along for the ride. There’s lust, romance, friendship, betrayal and an intriguing mystery too, ensuring that there’s hardly a dull moment in the lengthy 132 minute running time.
What surprised me about Barney’s Version is that I enjoyed the film despite the immensely flawed and unlikable protagonist. Barney is a fascinating character but he’s a complete douche no matter which way you look at it. Nonetheless, Giamatti’s performance makes Barney human and almost sympathetic at times. I was shocked to discover that I was actually touched by Barney’s story towards the end.
Of course, it’s not all Giamatti (who won a Golden Globe for his performance). The supporting cast was also amazing and it is a travesty that not more acting nominations were garnered. Dustin Hoffman was a standout as Barney’s father. Rosamund Pike, Minnie Driver, Scott Speedman and Bruce Greenwood were also fantastic in their respective roles.
I understand some of the complaints about the film — that Barney was too much of a prick for the film to be enjoyable, that Giamatti was too fat and ugly to attract such pretty ladies, that it was misogynistic, etc etc — but I think they are missing the point. For starters, the film is called “Barney’s” Version for a reason, and although the format doesn’t quite capture the ‘unreliable narrator’ of the book as well as I thought it should have, this was Barney’s story from his perspective and his memory. Besides, there are far less attractive men with more attractive women in the real world, and in any case, I personally thought Giamatti’s persistence and zest for life did give him a peculiar charm (but hey, what would I know?).
Ultimately, I found Barney’s Version to be a lovely film about the ups and downs of life and its moments. It’s not perfect but it’s one film I’ll likely remember years down the track.
4 stars out of 5