Barney’s Version (2010)

(In theatres, January 2011) As much as I like supporting Canadian Content (and there’s nothing more CanCon than an adaptation of Mordecai Richler’s last novel, filmed and set in Montréal), there’s something just subtly off about Barney’s Version.  It’s an accumulation of small annoyances that damage the film, from a scatter-shot episodic narrative to flat performances to overly sentimental moments.  I’ll be the first to note that presenting forty years of a man’s life on-screen isn’t the simplest screenwriting challenge: As an adaptation of a dense and thick novel, you can perceptibly feel the loose threads running over everywhere and be frustrated at the amount of extra detail missing from the screen.  That’ll explain the way the film doesn’t quite seem to hang together.  While Barney’s Version revolves around Paul Giamatti’s exceptional lead performance and Dustin Hoffman’s unrecognizable turn as his father, actors surrounding them are far less credible.  Most of the female characters seem played either without subtlety (I once thought I could watch Minnie Driver all day, but her one-note shrill performance tested that assumption) or without affect (Rosamund Pike, sedated throughout): even assuming that the film is from Barney’s subjective perspective isn’t enough to excuse it.  Humorous in the details and tragic in the whole, Barney’s Version runs off in all kinds of directions, and it’s not in its nature to finish neatly with a big finale.  It’s best, then, to appreciate its small quirky moments, its Montréal atmosphere and the occasional Denys Arcand cameo.  It is, as is the case with so many middle-of-the-road Canadian dramas, amiable but unremarkable.  Barney’s Version is good enough to make Canadian audiences feel better about seeing it, but it’s not worth much commentary otherwise.

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