Paul Giamatti first came to prominence
with his role as Bob Zmuda opposite Jim Carrey's Andy Kauffman in Man
on the Moon; but I first noticed him in two very small roles. As
Howard Stern's lamentable boss, Kenny, in Private Parts where he is all
mouth but no bite and as a smoking bellboy in My Best Friend's Wedding
who give Julia Robert's character some advice in a corridor. Both
small roles and typically throwaway but there is something endearing
and charming about Giamatti - the actor who gets that role as the
schlub, the schmuck, the fat guy with his unique shape.
Barney's Version is directed by Richard J. Lewis, and based upon the
novel by Mordecai Richler with a screenplay by Michael Konyves.
The film stars Paul Giamatti as the synonymous Barney Panofsky, the
unrepentant callous individual who despite being a somewhat drunk and
acerbic in his intellect, is nevertheless irresistible to women.
During the flashbacks that Barney has during the film's duration we see
him with three desirable women, all whom marry him. The third and final
wife, is in particular a saint, and he ultimately ruins his happiness
with her and their life together. Ultimately, Barney's brain
begins to slow down and he becomes a mere ghost in the world as his
family and friends begin to shun him.
Giamatti pleasingly gets his teeth into the role, as we follow Barney
from his bohemian musings in Rome in the late 70s and his first
misguided marriage to Clara who he believes he made pregnant; to his
second marriage to the Jewish princess played by Minnie Driver, like
the novel (which saved its most acerbic comment for) is not granted a
name. The sequences with Barney and this princess and her family
are the most cynical of the literature and the hierarchy of Jewish
stereotypes; the father in law looks down upon Barney's father, Izzy
(played with aplomb by Dustin Hoffman) with disdain when he bemoans his
lack of career progression saying stating maybe his lack of integrity
when assaulting criminals might have served him better than focus on
And yet, this film does have a unique heart. Barney meets his
third and final wife, Miriam Grant (stunning Rosamund Pike) at the
wedding of his second wife. He leaves his wedding and tracks her
down saying run away with me, when cooler heads should prevail.
Barney later calls Miriam as he is signing his divorce papers for a
date a few years later, and on their first date he retches up all the
whiskey he hoped would give him courage. Barney is an old
romantic, and that is where the heart comes from, and once he and
Miriam are married these are shown to be the best years of his life -
two kids, success with his television production company (Unnecessary
Productions - which gets a good pun) and respect from his peers.
The only cloud that hangs over him is the unsolved disappearance of his
friend Boogie (Scott Speedman), who fell into the lake by his country
house after an argument involving a gun. We are led to believe
that Barney shot Boogie, and the unrelenting pursuit of a Detective
O'Hearne (Mark Addy - yes that guy from the Tesco's adverts and The
Full Monty) to prove Barney's guilt makes us believe that maybe Barney
did do it.
These questions are lightly glossed over by the film's conclusion,
which is a reflection on the at times whimsical screenplay and light
direction, both of which are helped by a stunning central performance
by Giamatti who is at times beguiling yet never less than
charming. He is helped by Pike, who in a role that could easily
be wafer thin on paper is elevated by her elegance and radiance she
brings to the role; two tropes lacking in a lot of North American
It is important to note, that this is a Canadian production, and the
film never over states that fact in the production unlike other films
that may blare out the nationality of the piece, but the attention to
period detail and set design puts some American productions to shame.
Barney's Version is for you if you like films similar to Mr.Holland's
Opus that tells the story of someone through the decades and is helped
by a powerhouse central performance by an under-rated performer, this
is for you although it does include a little bit more swearing and sex
than the Richard Dreyfuss film. And as to why Giamatti did not
get a Leading Actor nomination from the Academy, well that is as tragic
as Barney Parnofsky's life wants to be.
Paul Giamatti, is one of my favourite actors to come out of Hollywood
in the last ten years. My favourite performance of his remains
Miles in Sideways, a performance that wrongly was ignored by the
Academy awards that year whilst his co-star Thomas Haden Church did get
a nomination. This year Giamatti won a Golden Globe for Best
Actor in Comedy, and rightly so, alas he was again ignored by the
Academy for this performance, admittedly a good field of actors but
should not it be time to give a guy his due.
Barney's Version (15) is released on DVD and Blu-Ray on 23rd May from
Universal Pictures International Entertainment with a £19.99RRP
(DVD) and £24.99(Blu-Ray). The bonus features include a