Richard J. Lewis‘s Barney’s Version, which is based on a 1997 autobiographical novel by Mordechai Richler, is so steeped in the lives and culture of Montreal Jewry that I was having trouble breathing. I wanted to be let out in the world beyond, one that wasn’t so oppressively one-note, but the film steadfastly refused. “No,” it said. “You’re stuck with the Canadian Jews and especially Paul Giamatti‘s relentlessly vulgar, cigar-smoking, acutely dislikable Barney…deal with it.”
Barney’s Version isn’t just about boomer-aged Canadian Jews who grew up and lived in Montreal, but it will probably only play with boomer-aged Canadian Jews who grew up and lived in Montreal.
All I could think of were thoughts of escaping back to the U.S., if necessary by subterfuge in the back of a truck. Let me out of this fucking world, I don’t want to know this slovenly turd, etc. Stop with the lighting of cigars, the cigars, the Monte Cristo cigars…stop it! The movie is a feast of primitive appetites and lying and animal cunning and endless gloom and depression…yeesh!
My son Jett, 22, walked out less than an hour in.
I loved Giamatti the actor for many years, and I’ll give him props for creating a sly, brilliant and spirited Barney, but he’s also created a repulsive Uriah Heep, and is saddled with some not-terribly-clever Richler dialogue to boot. The affection and identification I felt for Giamatti’s Miles in Sideways has been totally reversed by this film. I now have a negative association with the man.
Yes, Barney’s love for Rosamund Pike‘s character is pure and unfettered, and he loves his children, especially his daughter. But that’s not enough to exonerate him in my eyes. I wanted only to not have to deal with this asshole. But deal I did. I stayed with Barney’s Version right to the end.
Barney’s Version won’t stop hitting you over the head with Richler’s cynical, openly vulgar, world-weary “this is who and what I am and pardon me while I light another expensive cigar” schtick over and over again. Welcome to the Canadian Club for Older Gray-Haired Guys with Pot Bellies, it says over and over and over. Every Canadian director of note plays a part (Denys Arcand as a waiter, etc.), and we’re also stuck with Leonard Cohen tunes. This movie is relentlessly Canadian, Canadian, Canadian and fucking Canadian from start to finish.
I think I dropped out of the film when whatsername in Rome said Barney wasn’t much of a lover because he orgasmed in less than 30 seconds and had a three-inch member. All I could think was, “I’m stuck with a guy who has a three-inch dick for the next 110 minutes?”
Oh, no — here comes Dustin Hoffman, who’s looking like he’s 85 or 86 years old. (Was he wearing age makeup? I just spoke with him in LA a couple of years ago and he looked significantly younger.) Please don’t let Hoffman grin and say “Mazel Tov!” at the wedding scene. Please, please don’t let him say it, no, no, I’m begging you….aaah! He said it!
Pike is quite good with the focus and the class, but the movie isn’t good enough (and is in fact way too repulsive on too many levels) to propel her into awards consideration. On top of which her love for Barney is Richler’s wet fantasy dream There’s no way in the universe a woman as classy as Pike would marry a low sloppy beast like Barney. She could’ve done much, much better, and certainly knew that going in (as do we) so it makes no sense at all. A wise, ethical, beautiful and super-classy woman like Pike’s character is going to be receptive to sex and marriage with a bearded, balding, smelly, small-minded, bulging-eyed gnome who drinks like a fish and cheats on his wife on their wedding night?