… mixed …
With flashbacks and fast forwards, Barney’s Version follows Barney Panofsky through the saga of his three wives. First, as a sort of straight-man in Rome among his more footloose and artsy buddies, he marries the gorgeous and flaky Clara (Lefevre) because he believes he’s fathered her unborn child (don’t count on it).
A strength of the film is the naturalism of Giamatti’s portrayal of Barney, and the complex conception of his character: smart, successful (he’s a tv producer), loving, loyal — and selfish and opportunistic. Too many scenes, though, are hyped for farce. Take this first wedding: with the baby’s birth imminent, Clara staggers on stiletto heels, ignored by the men, toward the church where she and Barney will be married, ungainly and off-balance from the weight of the bulbous pregnancy, her beautiful long legs silhouetted and forced apart by the size of it. I think I may have laughed but then, this movie gets you to laugh at things that aren’t really funny.
Barmey’s second wife, played by Minnie Driver, is described in publicity as a “Jewish American Princess” (although we’re in Canada) but really, what do we see of her? (She isn’t even dignified with a name in the film.) She’s the daughter of well-to-do Canadians who are Jewish — as if that’s enough to make her a joke. And she truly and sincerely falls for Barney — one wonders why since he’s not particularly attractive and his charm is not overwhelming, but she does. Their wedding is satirical farce, a Goodbye, Columbus catered affair complete with a lavish “Viennese Table” that older women who don’t need another pastry dive into. And since in the course of the wedding dinner, Barney separates himself emotionally from his bride and her family, we, too, get the feeling that they’re gross and this is a gross event. Hey wait a minute — Barney’s actions are really gross: he flirts with another woman, Miriam, at his own wedding, falls instantly in love with her and, drunk, disheveled and abandoning his bride, chases Miriam to a departing train. One tends to root for the course of true love but — this is a stretch.
Barney continues to court the elegant Miriam long-distance after the wedding, leaving his wife high and dry. She tries to maintain their marriage and their sex life, he’s lost interest in all of it, but eventually, at their isolated lake house she succumbs to Boogie, Barney’s handsome writer friend from the old days in Rome. Arriving unexpected and finding them at sex, Barney seizes upon the situation as an easy way out of this marriage so he can go on to marry Miriam. But first he has a drunken fight with Boogie who falls into the water and disappears, leading a detective to hound Barney for decades as a murderer.
Barney succeeds in winning his true love, Miriam, but eventually goofs up their idyllic marriage. Not even perfect Miriam is perfect: turns out she’s unforgiving. Sadness ensues. And eventually deepening of character, and learning, and everything else that happens if you live long enough.
Barney’s is a complicated life, well acted by Giamatti who grows old subtly as we watch. Too bad the film makers didn’t find in that enough of a story and hyped it by resorting to farce and by reducing some characters to caricature. One actor in the film is even more natural, more completely believable and more humorous than Giamatti: Dustin Hoffman, playing Barney’s father, Detective Izzy Panofsky, who protects his son from the ruthless detective who haunts him. The complete naturalness with which Hoffman speaks even the simplest lines is startling, even in a face-off with the excellent Giamatti.
All in all, a well acted, well photographed, mean spirited movie.
… nixed …