Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Barney's Version

I loved this movie a lot. Paul Giamatti, who plays the title role, is spot on. Dustin Hoffman plays his father and he's great too. Actually, he's perfect. Gap-toothed and perfect. A quotable: "Marriage is like pushing an avocado through a cheese grater. All of a sudden, it feels like you're holding a pile of shit."

As you surely know if you are Canadian and surely don't if you're not, Barney's Version is based on a book of the same name by the much-beloved Canadian author Mordecai Richler. I have absolutely no doubt that many people will tell you the book is better than the movie, since that is the sort of thing people love to say. But I will not be saying it, since the book has no pictures and apparently cannot be read in 132 minutes.

Anyway, the movie (and probably also the book) tells the story of Barney Panofsky's life in flashback. Barney Panofsky is a total fat scumbag who is a little too much of an asshole to be a loveable jerk and is thrice divorced. He has an outrageous, wildly gesticulating, sex-addicted father, and also killed a man. Or maybe not. There's the investigator's version of that alleged crime but, of course, what you are about to see is Barney's version.

There was one scene I didn't like. It's the scene where Barney first meets his third wife and great love. She tells him a little tale about the founding of Monte Cristo cigars, and how the workers used to tell the story about the count of that name to help the time pass. I'm pretty sure we are all supposed to think this is as fascinating as Barney clearly does, since he is instantly smitten. But the thing is, I too know a number of anecdotes of that approximate vintage, because I spend practically the whole day looking up random shit on Wikipedia. And I can tell you that guys don't go for anecdote-tellers. If anyone actually thinks I'm wrong about this, please let me know and I'll keep telling the one about how Sesame Street was modeled after Brooklyn Heights and in the first season, Oscar the Grouch was orange.

What I'm trying to say is that the scene isn't believable. But the rest of the movie is great, so go see it anyway.


  1. He's a "much loved" author unless you are Quebecois, or a Montreal Jew, both of which he loved to mock and both of which long hated him. But then, that's what made him so good - he could visciously parody anyone he turned his mind to.

  2. True. I stand corrected. Or rather, assisted.

  3. One of my favourite books. I was really looking forward to watching this movie, but am now worried that the more complex and interesting aspects of Barney's character were lost in translation. Does he really only come across as a fat scumbag?

  4. No, not entirely. Actually, I felt really sorry for him when his third wife left him, but it was sort of with poetic justice since she did to him exactly what he did to his second wife (i.e., Miriam was happy about his affair because it meant she could leave him, and Barney was happy about Wife #2's affair because it meant he could leave her). But I also realized that it didn't happen because of anything much about the way he was, and it could happen to anyone.

    Also, not to be a pretentious snob with my grandiose high school education, but Barney's love is as pure as Gatsby's. Which is why I felt sorry for him.

  5. Ahh I can't wait to see this! I've been watching the trailer, reading the book, my fiance even read the screenplay - we are counting down the days until it reaches little old Baltimore! Thanks for the review, can't wait to post my own response to the film!

  6. Oops! I forgot to say in my original post that I was really, really pleased with the girl who played Barney's daughter. To my pleasant surprise, they didn't cast some ridiculous leggy almost-brunette, but a properly authentic Jewish girl with a bit of a fat ass. Thank goodness.

  7. yeah, you're totally right. men would nearly always give way more importance to a big fat ass than to anecdote-telling capabilities. BUT, maybe, Barney was so absorbed in his abrupt passion, that genuine and delicate romanticism could emerge in such a brutish man. And that's perhaps the merit of the story, how a totally mediocre man could be protagonist of a true love story.

  8. Barneys Version is one of my top favourite movies. Brilliantly played by Paul Giamatti. I agree with you on the casting of his daughter. I'm Irish & never realised there was a book but I will try & get a copy now that I know about it.