from the pen of Mordecai Richler: Barney’s Version, based on his novel of the same title. One of Richler’s best works, this satire is full of irony, ambiguity, and realistic flawed characters.
Barney, played delightfully by Paul Giamatti, is a tv producer whose love life makes up the core of the plot. His first hippie wife (Rachelle Lefevre) is a suicidal flake who’s slept with many others before she cons Barney into marrying her. Minnie Driver is the second Mrs. Panofsky, a superficial Jewish socialite, who protests too much and, after sleeping with Barney’s sleazy druggie best friend (Scott Speedman), divorces her husband. Barney has better luck with the love of his life (Rosamund Pike) whom he meets at his second wedding, though he ultimately screws up with her as well in his inimitable fashion.
This is very much a character comedy with each character proving charming, interesting, and flawed with the exception of Barney’s wife and kids, and Blair (played by Bruce Greenwood). Dustin Hoffman is hilarious as a profane Jew-retired cop/Barney’s father with his own unexpected redeeming qualities in Barney’s eyes. There are very many funny scenes and the script does not hold back on the honest Richler coarse humor.
There is a also a murder mystery subplot and references to the Montreal Canadiens games and players of the ’70s, reflecting Richler’s own fondness for his hometown team. What I found interesting the second time around was Barney’s forgetfulness/Alzheimer’s (something which is a standing joke in the novel) and how the script adaptation makes him more pathetic and sympathetic by the end of the movie. The viewer ends up sympathizing with him and his family on the home stretch, which is distinctly different and more believable than the original book ending.
There is a lot to enjoy and appreciate about how well done this Canadian movie is, directed by comedian Richard J. Lewis. The casting is perfect, the plot is unique, and the characters a pleasure to watch, even though they’re far from perfect for the most part, especially the protagonist. If I had to pick a favorite satirical Canadian novel and movie, Barney’s Version would be both. Two thumbs way up.