Rating: 4 stars out of 5
The Stars: Paul Giamatti, Rosamund Pike, Minnie Driver, Dustin Hoffman, Scott Speedman, Rachelle LeFevre.
The Story: As an old man, Barney Panofsky (Giamatti) is bitter, lonely and has just been accused of murdering his best friend (Speedman). Flashback a couple of years into his youth and we are introduced to Barney’s first wife; bohemian-loving Clara (LeFevre), where their tragic end spirals him down the path of cynicism and addiction to the bottle. Thereafter leading him to his second marriage with a rich, Daddy’s girl (Driver), whom his own eccentric father (Hoffman) wholly approves of for practical reasons. Instead of being enamored by his newest bride, Barney falls for the effervescent Miriam (Pike) on his wedding day. Even though Miriam eventually accepts him into her life, their relationship is fraught with more hurdles than they can handle.
The Buzz: This Canadian comedy-drama directed by Richard J.Lewis (best known for helming TV’s CSI) premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last year, and has garnered wide-spread critical and commercial praise. Based on a novel of the same name by Mordecai Richler, the movie was also nominated at the recent Oscars for Best Make-up and earned lead actor Giamatti a Golden Globe for his portrayal of embittered Barney.
inSing.com says: Giamatti is truly the best there is at playing small and twisted little men we end up rooting for, if only because of our (often) subconscious desire to champion the underdog. It’s the kind of role he nailed in Sideways, and one that he brilliantly replicates in Barney’s Version – he’s the regular-looking, flawed guy whom one can easily sympathize. Hoffman similarly, turns in a sublime performance (which sadly was largely ignored at the awards), and as a father-son team, emanates some sparkling chemistry with his co-star.
Portraying a rather stereotypically rich and self-righteous heiress, Driver admittedly didn’t have enough to work with, but manages to charm in an over-the-top caricature. A post Felicity/Underworld Speedman seems a tad miscast as a hometown Jew, though still requisite eye-candy. Anyone who thought Keri Russell’s character chose the wrong guy obviously wasn’t paying attention… to his abs. Pike mostly imbues Miriam with very genuine earnestness, despite coming off flat during some emotionally heartrending moments. Nevertheless, all is forgiven during that wonderful scene where she explains how life (and reality) is in "the seconds, the minutes, the routines".
Visually, Barney’s Version is spectacularly mounted on a bright-and-breezy palette of colour befitting of the 4 decades it spans across. For those who remain befuddled by the Best Make-up Oscar nod, it’s precisely this jump between different time periods that proves the film’s worth in making the actors look as realistic as possible.
Nothing like its purple dinosaur namesake, Barney’s Version is indeed a well-cast, radiantly crafted indie treasure that will take you on a roller-coaster ride of tears and laughter.