True love and fine cigars feature in the charming Barney’ Version, a blend of intelligent comedy and stirring drama headlined by a career best Paul Giamatti.
In the pantheon of Giamatti’s depressed, flawed characters, Barney Ponofsky is perhaps the most messed up and endearing.
A no BS TV producer with a taste for good cigars and insatiable weakness for women, Barney can come across as an unlikeable and destructive personality. Yet just like a little dog who scratches the shit out of your couch and craps in your slippers, once those puffy dog eyes get to work it is hard to stay mad for long.
In Barney’s case, his flaws are countered with an insatiable wit, cultured brain and most of all, a big ol’ heart. This is one big softie of a man in ruin, and in the hands of Giamatti it culminates to the best performance of his career thus far.
Based on the novel by Mordecai Richter, Barney’s Version spans over 40 years and 3 marriages. The film begins with our man in 1970s Rome and just married to mentally unstable Clara (Rachelle Lafevre). Her suicide prompts Barney’s return to New Jersey, where he meets and marries wife number two, an upper class Jewish girl played brilliantly annoying by Minnie Driver.
Yet true love does not come until he meets Miriam, played by the always graceful Rosamund Pike. That he falls head over cigar for Miriam at his wedding reception is the type of class act this guy is. That he also pursues Miriam to the point of another divorce gives cause that this man just may be the biggest helpless romantic seen in some time, albeit an irresponsible one who alienates with the same force that he pursues love.
If you’re conflicted in your feelings for Barney, that’s fine. It just proves that you are a human being, just like he is. And like all of us chugging through this great yonder, it is Barney’s journey and legacy which will be remembered in the end.
Whether it be his approach to his Jewish identity (secular, not religious), his forever patient and forgiving attitude towards his bohemian best friend (Scott Speedman), or his relationship with his equally messed up father (a brilliant Dustin Hoffman), Barney’s life is one filled with as much light as there is darkness.
Director Richard J. Lewis last movie credit was the straight to video K-9: P.I.. Over the last few years, he has served as director and producer for hit TV show CSI. He is a talent who should continue making movies like Barney’s Version, for his sake and ours.
A powerful heart drives this film. Sweet, tragic, and funny, Barney’s Version may not be the best guide to life, but it is currently on of the better movies to watch.