Barney's Version Directed by: Richard J. Lewis Cast: Paul Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman, Rosamund Pike Running Time: 2 hrs 10 mins Rating: R Release Date: January 21, 2011 (Chicago)
PLOT: The life of fictional character Barney Panofsky, as he moves from one marriage to the next while trying to maintain his sanity as a television producer.
WHO'S IT FOR?: Fans of Giamatti will probably be the most pleased, as they will be excited to see his schlubby presence heightened to true literary proportions.
EXPECTATIONS: I did not have much of an idea about Barney's Version before viewing it. And for the record, I had seen the film before Giamatti won his Golden Globe for "Best Actor in a Comedy/Musical."
Paul Giamatti as Barney: The heart and soul of the film is not a very likable character, which is one obstacle that Giamatti nearly fails to conquer. He's an impulsive slob who screws up things in almost every way possible. This role (and then this movie) might have been more interesting were someone other than Giamatti to play, who, sad to say, does seem to rely heavily on the aura he carried around with him as Miles in Sideways. Score: 5
Dustin Hoffman as Izzy Panofsky: This one is more different from other recent Dustin Hoffman kooky roles because he has a mustache. While the actor could make emptying a litter box entertaining, for such an important character, (probably Barney's most reliable friend) he seems to exist mostly for cheap "Look At My Crazy dad" laughs. Score: 4
Rosamund Pike as Miriam Grant: In a whole movie of stressful characters, Pike provides the movie a breath of clean, wholly loving air. The chemistry between herself and Giamatti is indeed noteworthy, and their entire story might be the movie's most successful aspect. Score: 5
Rest of the Cast: Minnie Driver is amusing as she dives into Jewish stereotypes, Scott Speedman plays a boring free spirit, and Atom Egoyan & David Cronenberg make brief cameos. Score: 5
TALKING: The dialogue maintains a healthy believability, with Izzy Panofsky's quirky lines bringing some of the movie's most amusing moments. Score: 6
SIGHTS: The most effective visual aspect of Barney's Version is its make-up, which is able to successfully add noticeable years to Giamatti's mug, and even the delicate face of Pike. The film is shot in Montreal and Rome, the latter only covered briefly in two different occasion. Score: 5
SOUNDS: Leonard Cohen's "I'm Your Man" is used twice in the film, and rounds up the movie with its appearance in the credits. The entire score, heavy on xylophones and oboes, can not muster enough interest to grab more attention than Cohen's single tune. Score: 5
BEST SCENE: The wedding scene may be the film's finest moment, as it features Dustin Hoffman making funny, some dry Jewish humor, and even the introduction of the movie's brightest aspect, Miriam Grant.
ENDING: Barney's version of his story is finally understood not just by his audience, but by his children.
REWATCHABILITY: Barney's Version is a bit of a chore to finish the first time; a second viewing in the near future doesn't sound appealing at all.
Regardless of how unlikable Barney and his story may be, the film does provide a massive picture of a man’s entire life. Unlike most films that fail in trying to explain a character’s entire existence, Barney’s Version gives us the full picture, but unfortunately the narrative structure of the story calls for a jumbling of the pieces, something the editing itself can’t completely keep in line. The movie screws too much with its cohesiveness, just as Barney screws with ruining every that he tries to hold dear to him.
Barney’s Version is not just the mess of one man. It is a whole circus of unwelcoming creatures that lack enchantment even for characters from a completely fictional world. For the most part, every recklessly impulsive character (especially Barney) is loaded with too many pure flaws to be likable, and desired humor suffers a serious shortage, not providing them with any support. These human beings of this confusing world aren’t funny, nor do they speak to the audience. They’re simply exasperating.
For a seemingly extraordinary life, Barney’s Version tells its tale too ordinarily.
FINAL SCORE: 4/10