by Mary McCarthy
There’s a good reason Paul Giametti won the Golden Globe for Best Actor (and I wouldn’t be surprised if he scored an Oscar nod on January 25).
He is amazing in Barney’s Version, where he plays the flawed but lovable Barney Panofsky, a producer of badly written Canadian soap operas living a sort of Frank Sinatra “My Way” life involving booze, cigars, and three wives.
Giametti’s Master’s Degree in Drama from Yale University has finally brought him a long way from “Lady in the Water” and “Fred Claus” (though, granted, “Sideways”) to the Hollywood version of the Ivy League. Certainly his roles from now on will enroll him at the Kevin Spacey school of perfecting the everyman.
Director Richard Lewis meets the challenge of the ‘epic film covering a 30 year span of time’ quite well. Like “Forrest Gump” and “Benjamin Button”- we’re following a man’s life across most of its existence, and Lewis manages to make this a worthwhile journey. There’s even an intriguing subplot of ‘Did Barney get away with murder?’ that’s resolved only in the final moments of the film.
The film’s tag line “First he got married. Then he got married again. Then he met the love of his life.” is accurate but oversimplified in a way. While Rachelle Lefevre and Minnie Driver have great moments as his first wives, it is the fantastic performance by Rosamund Pike as the love of his life that truly makes the film shine.
Pike’s character Miriam Grant-Panofsky is not traditionally the female role that would make a film amazing- she tolerates his drinking, embarrassing attitude around her friends and jealousy (which would seem to make her unlikable but somehow does not) and instead loves him for the man he is- until he manages to make a marital mistake for which he’ll spend the rest of his life paying. Pike, who is somehow simultaneously exotic and simple, never stops loving him, though, and remains supportive when her ex-husband beings showing signs of Alzheimer’s or dementia (neither is mentioned directly).
Dustin Hoffman is charming, warm and funny as the Jewish cop dad of Barney and both men capture the nuance of a father-son relationship with emotion and depth.
A portrait of Barney as Devil (painted by his suicide victim first wife) haunts him throughout the film like the undercurrent of alcoholism that plagues him as well (though his drinking never comes close to a “Leaving Las Vegas” level). When told by his neighbor that he’s a vegan, Giametti’s character asks “Is that treatable?”- because that’s just the kind of guy he is. His abrasive exterior masks a much deeper well of emotion, though- and this depth is reflected in the expressiveness of Giametti’s eyes throughout the film.
This movie is a story about life- marriage, children, infidelity, careers, death, and simple humanity. The story is told through one man’s eyes- and it’s a story worth experiencing.
Barney’s Version is Rated R for lanuage, mature themes, and some nudity. However, there aren’t enough of any of these things to preclude (with appropriate parental guidance) the enjoyment of this film by any mature teenager.