Barney’s Version Review

I remember it well.

Or maybe not.

Like any story worth telling, Barney’s Version begins with a good bottle of whiskey.

Well, that may not be my truth rather than a universal one. But if the whiskey’s good, then it doesn’t really matter if the story is forgettable.

One thing Barney Panofsky certainly hasn’t forgotten is his ex wife.

Well, his most recent one anyhow, Miriam Grant-Panofsky. It seems Barney had to go through a few of them til he found the right one.

But I won’t judge the boy too harshly for that.

Most people don’t really know what it is to fall in love, and simply grab onto the next best thing they can get their hands on.

And the second Mrs Panofsky, played by Minnie Driver, sure fits into that latter category.

Of course, there was also a first Mrs Panofsky; but that was more of a self inflicted shotgun wedding, when the gun in question really should have been pointing at another man.

But when real love comes to town, boy do you know about it.

From the very first day.

Fortunately for Barney, he’s present enough to recognise this when it happens to him. Even if that day just so happens to be his wedding to the second Mrs Panofsky.

Oy.

But the female loves of Barney’s life are only a part of his story.

Having been brought into the showbiz world by his uncle, Barney flourishes in this environment and becoming a successful tv producer of a show that really shouldn’t be a success.

Yet Panofsky’s heart seems to belong to his artistic circle of friends that he managed to benevolently fund during his younger and their leaner years.

None more so than his closest friend, Bernard “Boogie” Moscovitch, a shooting star of a man and another writer who’s intent on living his life to the full.

After all, as Boogie’s so fond of saying, we only get one trip around.

Hanging around these cats seem to give Barney’s life the vibrancy and purpose he perhaps can not create for himself, and this way of life seems enough for him; until the day Miriam stops Barney in his tracks.

Barney’s Version is a sprawling comedy inspired by Mordecai Richler’s novel of the same name.

Having never read the book, it’s hard to know how many liberties screenwriter Michael Konvyes took in adapting his source material but a little light research reveals the most important change is in the way the cinematic version is told.

Barney Panofsky, played by the ever reliable Paul Giamatti, begins the film as an old man with Barney’s Version being his account of what happened in his life; and most importantly, the mysterious disappearance of his close friend Boogie, played with charm and abandon by Scott Speedman.

Told in flashback, Barney’s Version starts out as an amusing comedy about the escapades of a young Panofsky, Boogie and their circle of artist friends.

But as Barney moves into serious relationships, and away from his bachelor days, so the film becomes less funny and more serious in tone.

Perhaps this is an observation about life itself as, with the notable exception of Dustin Hoffman as Barney’s dad Izzy Panofsky, the second half begins to drag.

If that’s what lies ahead, I’ll be taking a leaf or two out of Boogie’s version instead of Barney’s.

Jonathan Campbell

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November 2011
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