It's as epic as it is funny
Barney’s Version is a big sweeping comedic drama about the life and loves of one man. That man doesn’t change the world or alter the course of history but the extent to which his experiences are both hilarious to watch and – taken as a whole – are made to feel epic, is what makes this film remarkable.
Barney is one big eye roll
If it were necessary to nominate one action that demonstrates title character Barney Panofsky’s demeanour it would be the eye roll: that’s how disillusioned he appears to be about everything around him. The politically incorrect and sarcastic Barney is neither an oil painting nor charismatic or inspiring, but there is something about him that is quite irresistible, perhaps because it is a rare joy to see such a character on the big screen. When film offers up believable characters, the fictional person and the actor merge and that is the case with Barney and Paul Giamatti (Sideways, Cinderella Man), the actor who plays him. Giamatti won the Golden Globe for best performance by an actor in a motion picture – comedy or musical – but surely Barney won it too. The actor talks here about the role.
The very clever script
It’s impossible not to marvel at the cleverness and seamlessness of the script, which was based on a sprawling novel by Mordecai Richler. The story focuses on what happens when Barney realises that he’s become a victim of love at first sight – cue Miriam, the epitome of elegance and honourable behaviour, played by Gone Girl’s Rosamund Pike – but there’s other stories and beautifully drawn relationships packed in around this central focus throughout. Producer Robert Lantos, a huge figure in the Canadian film and television industry, writes here about some of the challenges of making the film, including the difficulty of writing the adaptation up until writer Michael Konyves appeared on the scene.
Hoffman and Driver add big laughs
Two actors demand acknowledgement for the humour they add to this film in their scenes with Giamatti: Dustin Hoffman, who plays Barney’s father Izzy Panofsky with an infectious smile and not a skerrick of Barney’s angst; and Minnie Driver, who plays Barney’s grating, raucous second wife. All three each won a Genie Award, Canada’s principal film accolade.
The delightful cameos
Seeing the cameo appearances of some of Canada’s most celebrated and prolific veteran directors are small delights but delights nonetheless. Those to watch for are Denys Arcand, David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan and Ted Kotcheff.