The picaresque and touching story of the politically incorrect, fully lived life of the impulsive, irascible and fearlessly blunt Barney Panofsky.
Year 2, Film #22
THE REVIEW: I’ve seen a few comedy-dramas before and I’ve also seen some films that, while labeled both, only deserve one. Barney’s Version however has to be the film most fitting of the hyphenated genre as I’ve never laughed so hard and been in dead silence as I watch what unfolds. All the while you think you’re seeing one film when in fact everything you just saw was something completely different. As always seems to be the case, I’m so eager to spoil a film I really care about because it’s too hard to hold anything back; I just want to go on and on about how Barney’s Version is so amazing. Rest assured, I’ll refrain from any outright spoilers as always, but in case you fear reading into my vagueness just know this: you should see this film.
Let me start off with some of the amazing acting in Barney’s Version. There is not a bad performance in sight, starting with Paul Giamatti playing the titular Barney Panofsky. Barney is the epitome of a character you hate to love. Not only is he a cheating alcoholic whose had three wives, but he’s also verbally abusive (though not physically) and his jealousy leads to some very bad choices. If all you had were these basic characterisitcs, it’d be near impossible to understand how he could be likable. And yet, Giamatti just delivers an overwhelming sense of empathy. Behind all the bad things, there is a loving and caring man—it’s just hard to see behind all the booze. Where he really shines through is with his third wife, the true love of his life, Miriam Grant (Rosamund Pike). In Roger Ebert’s review he described Miriam as a “saint” and there isn’t a more perfect word than that. It’s absolutely baffling how she puts up with Barney and unclear what she sees in him, but from the moment Barney laid eyes on Miriam he knew she was the one. From then on he did not give up until she said yes, and it’s in acts like these that you see Barney for the true person he is. It’s not often and these actions are usually hidden behind his second favorite friend, Mr. Bottle (right next to Mr. Radar), but they are there and they provide a grounding for Barney’s character—something that becomes very important later on. I’d last like to call out Barney’s father who is played by Dustin Hoffman. He’s the old man who doesn’t care about speaking his mind and will upset the entire room if he has to. There’s a very clear like-father, like-son connection between the two and despite the lack of any likable qualities, the father still manages to entertain and command the screen due to his persona. All around the board, the performances are a big part in selling this film and do a lot to get you invested in the story. Paul Giamatti was robbed of an Oscar nomination (Jesse Eisenberg is the only outlier on the list) to say the least.
Now into possible spoiler territory: the plot. Barney’s Version is one of those films where once it’s done you immediately want to go back and re-watch it to see if you missed any clues as to how the ending plays out. The only thing that comes to mind right now is the title, Barney’s Version, which now that I’m thinking about it is an extremely clever title. For a good chunk of the film, I merely thought the film was good. The acting, as I’ve already rambled on about, is fantastic and the characters kept me hooked, but the story was meandering along a bit. Barney goes through his first wife (Rachelle Lefevre), then meets his second (Minnie Driver) who lasts exponentially longer than his first and therefore had me thinking she was the mother of the children we see in the beginning. But alas no, it’s not until he meets his third wife, Miriam, who he coincidentally met at his second wedding, that there’s some semblance of where the film is headed. By no means how the film is going to end, that was a complete surprise and very well done, but more of a “Why am I watching this” sort of direction. At this point, the film started slowly creeping into the great and then the fantastic area. Not only because the conflict resolution in a predictable (it’s even stated in the opening), yet satisfying way, but because this magical thing happens: you come to a sudden realization that there’s more to what you’ve been seeing. It’s not an Inception-level of brain-explosion, it’s more of a Memento-esque shock. And that’s how I’m going to end that.
Barney’s Version is a great film and the most appropriate use of the comedy-drama moniker I’ve ever seen. After hearing such amusing lines as “The chicken is great.” … “It’s fish,” and my personal favorite (and what forced me to pause the movie so I could finish laughing), “We were just going to throw some burgers on the grill. Do you want to join us?” … “I’m a vegan.” … “Is that treatable?” I could not believe how saddened and in disbelief I was when the credits rolled. Any thought of humor went right out the window and all you can think about is how depressing Barney’s Version is. Obviously given that description, this isn’t a film for all occasions, but it is a must-see and a film I know I will see again.
THE RATING: 5 out of 5