Barney’s Version is a 2010 movie based on a 1997 novel by Mordecai Richler. It stars Paul Giamatti as Barney, a Jewish TV producer from Montreal who goes through a series of marriages. We didn’t read the book nor hear much about the movie, but we like Paul Giamatti and the trailer looked good, so it got added to our Netflix queue.
Directed by Richard J. Lewis, Barney’s Version is not a masterpiece, but it is a rich and fairly rewarding stew of interesting ingredients that improves as it simmers away for its two and a quarter hours.
Early on, we almost quit. Barney’s story starts when, as a young Bohemian living in Rome, he gets tangled up with the most horrible woman in the world (Rachelle Lefevre). This relationship is so impossibly hideous that it seems the movie must be a comedy, and not a particularly funny one. Also, some extra added hair works about as well to convince us of Giamatti’s innocent youth as it does on Homer Simpson.
Gradually, though, as layers are added over time, Barney’s Version develops into a vivid portrait of a man struggling against his own inadequacy with varying success.
Dustin Hoffman, as Barney’s unpolished dad, and Scott Speedman also complement Giamatti’s excellent performance. Lots of personal drama and a touch of potential crime mystery are added to the comedy as, over many years, the setting switches between Rome, Montreal, an idyllic nearby lake house, and New York City.
Not everything works. A few clinkers now and then break the movie’s spell momentarily, but as a whole, Barney’s Version is an engaging story with very human characters that is worth viewing.