The novels of Mordecai
Richler are so dense and complicated that they are difficult to break down
into a two hour movie. That hasn't stopped filmmakers seduced by his
distinctive narrative voice to try - some of the better past attempts were
The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1974) and Joshua: Then and
Now (1985). Both were impressively well-made adaptations that
could not quite capture the experience of the novel, but did as well as
could be expected. And those scripts were actually written by Richler,
so you know it was not just some hack trying to boil down the essence of the
Barney's Version -
based on his final novel from 1997 - is in the same boat. It's a very
good movie that suffers somewhat in comparison to its source material.
I may even go so far as to
say it is the best film made of Richler's novels (only Duddy Kravitz
is in the same ballpark, though a film that Richler wrote specifically as a
screenplay, the original George Segal/Jane Fonda version of
Fun With Dick & Jane, would still be my favorite cinematic version of
his work). Barney's Version as a film is funny, fascinating, far-ranging and yet
eventually not quite the equal of the novel.
This is not necessarily a
horribly bad thing - the book was an extremely good one and movie
adaptations of fine literature will inevitably be unable to capture the
depth and the narrative thrust of the printed word.
Barney's Version definitely
does succeed well as a movie.However due to strong
writing, interesting situations and some fine performances - particularly by
Paul Giammati as the title character -
And if you haven't read the novel, it is even
is - as you may imagine from the title - one man's
look back at his own history. It encompasses several decades, three
marriages, two children and two mysterious deaths in the life of a cynical
Canadian television executive.
Cynical is a bit of an
understatement. He's self-deprecating to a stunning degree. His production company is called
Totally Unnecessary Productions and his
favorite bar is a local dive called Grumpy's. Barney
Panofsky is a man who is both entranced and appalled by love, pickled by
drink and power, passive aggressive and massively wounded and hardened.
sort of the epitome of the great Sigmund Freud by way of Groucho Marx
(by way of Woody Allen) saying: "I could never join a club that would have someone like me as a
found love once and yet he was married three times. It was perhaps
just bad timing that he met his one true love at his own wedding to another
first meet Barney in Europe in the 1970s. He is a money man in the
midst of artists and is marrying a woman (Rachelle Lefavre), a woman that he
doesn't really particularly seem to like much - and who regularly cuckolds
him - because she is pregnant and he might be the father.
Flash forward a few years
and Barney - now a widower - again gets involved, this time with a spoiled
Jewish American Princess (Minnie Driver) who exasperates him much more than
she seem to attract him.
It is at this second
wedding that Barney meets Miriam (Rosamund Pike), the convenience date of a
gay relative. Barney falls for her hard, even asking her out on his
wedding day and pursuing her from afar for years before she finally agrees
to go out with him. However, despite a long and relatively happy
marriage and two children, it is Barney's fate to destroy all he loves and
even this relationship hits the rocks.
In fact, Barney's longest
relationship (other than his good-hearted-but-crass father, played with a
twinkle in the eye by Dustin Hoffman) is with Boogie (Scott Speedman), the
kind of good looking, artistic man that Barney always aspired to be.
However, Boogie has a lot of skeletons in his closet and when he disappears
after a heated drunken argument with Barney, a local police detective makes
it his mission to find Barney guilty of murder.
Throughout, the film has
been deftly juggling comedy and drama, but as Barney ages, a serious illness
changes the film, going from smart and funny to more serious and morose.
Honestly, the earlier sexy, funny parts of Barney's existence are more
intriguing than the later, more tragic ones. Then again, that's
usually how it works in real life as well.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: January 13, 2011.