Published: 27 January, 2011
by DAN CARRIER
Directed by Richard J Lewis
Rating: 3 Out Of 5 Stars
BARNEY’S Version tells the life story of a TV producer creating rubbish programmes and his sometimes successful, occasionally failed, attempts at bumbling through life with a partner at his side.
Based on the novel by Mordecai Richler, Barney’s story is told through flashbacks that leap through decades, tracing the various loves he has with women and friendships he has with men.
Riddled through is the enduring mystery of what happened to his good-for-nothing mate, Boogie: we learn Barney had bailed him out a few times when he was a struggling writer laid low by a nasty heroin addiction.
One day Barney, played by Paul Giamatti, finds him in bed with his second wife and a drunken argument ensues as to whether he will help get Barney the financially beneficial divorce he desperately wants.
Bang goes a gun and Boogie disappears.
Elsewhere we are treated to semi-comic skits about being mortal, growing old, father-in-laws and Jewish princesses, family relationships and breathing the sweet air of youth – Europe acts as the typical American metaphor for the follies of the young, with a 20-something Barney cavorting through Rome as Hemingway did in Paris.
Barney is in some ways a proper Mensch, and to the outsider he could be a gigantic loser who treats his friends and lovers in a despicably heartless way. But the point is this is Barney’s Version, so we get to see his motives and what drives him, and therefore feel some sympathy.
Dustin Hoffman puts in a good turn as the lonely and alcohol-sodden father, a retired cop who had his fair share of anti-semitism to confront on his beat, while Giamatti was made for this role.
It has been taken from a popular comic novel and perhaps would have been better to stay that way – I couldn’t help but think this works as a bit of guilty pleasure for middle-aged men.
Barney’s behaviour is neither charming nor endearing, nor often forgiveable. He is hardly a looker, either – yet he captures the hearts of three rather gorgeous and successful women, one after the other – the stuff middle-aged blokes’ fantasies are made of. “Yeah, right,” you may find yourself thinking, “nice work if you can get it!”