Published Sep 16, 2010Because Mordecai Richler's source novel of the same name deals with two unreliable narrators piecing together the life of a man suffering from Alzheimer's, several options are present for cinematic interpretation, allowing for certain artistic freedoms and unconventional storytelling techniques. But television director Richard J. Lewis sticks with the familiar, making linear the mostly disjointed and meandering tale of a curmudgeonly petulant man whose likeability is minimal, at best.
Said man is Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti), a Montreal-based television producer whose youthful, European dalliances with affected artists propel the central plight of the film after his friend Boogie (Scott Speedman) comes for a drunken visit and mysteriously disappears, leaving the titular crank suspected of murder. Inflating this central mystery are Barney's many romantic endeavours with various woman that would never bother with him in real life, such as the outspoken, crass Mrs. P (Minnie Driver) and the eventual love of his life, Miriam (Rosamund Pike).
Jumping ahead years at a time, recalling key life signifiers in a frequently unflattering light, only to later contextualize them, there's an awkward Citizen Kane feel to the ordeal, which is problematic, given the lack of similarities in filmmaking technique and panache. Barney's Version wants to be a sprawling, old Hollywood epic about a challenging man eventually humanized, but it's mostly just an actor's piece for Giamatti, with all secondary characters written as mere ciphers or cartoon villains.
At over two hours, this presumed comedy overstays its welcome, occasionally tossing in some crassness about fingering a Rabbi's wife under a table and pre-fellatio washing to keep the riff-raff amused. Dustin Hoffman steals each of his few scenes as Panofsky's unrefined father, playing of the Philistine presence of Minnie Driver and her arrogant family.
Aside from this minor ray of sunshine, there's little to recommend about this overly bland and unfocused story about a man that truly received more good in his life than he deserved, no matter how loud the violins play in the final act. (eOne)