Review: Barney’s Version

Without having read Mordecai Richler’s 1997 novel which Barney’s Version is adapted from, it’s still abundantly clear that this long, glossily mounted tearjerker exhibits all the usual problems with paring down 400 pages into an orderly feature film. With its time-jumping flashbacks, and uneven tonal balance that strains to blend soapy melodrama, romantic comedy and murder mystery, it’s an initially engrossing but progressively rambling and schmaltzy film that’s mostly saved by a set of fine, if not exceptional performances. Being partial to Paul Giamatti’s now-familiar rumpled-sadsack schtick also goes a long way to making the film somewhat palatable: Barney’s Version is full-bore Giamatti for 132 minutes.

He plays Jewish-Canadian TV producer Barney Panofsky, a hopelessly romantic curmudgeon who’s gone through three marriages before an onset of Alzheimer’s cuts him down. The character’s a genuine Giamatti Standard: the puppy-dog-faced-jerk-whom-you-hate-but-grow-to-love-but-still-kind-of-hate. The film views his tumultuous life with generation-spanning sprawl (wigs!) which it can’t quite sustain; nevertheless there are individual vignettes to savour, such as Panofsky’s first swoony meeting with the gleaming, doll-like Rosamund Pike at his wedding to loud-mouthed affluent socialite Minnie Driver, and the touching, often amusing scenes with delightfully scene-stealing beat-cop father Dustin Hoffman. Look out for cameos by Canadian directors David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan.