Saturday, February 5, 2011

Barney's Version

The failure of Richard J. Lewis' "Barney's Version" comes from the fact that it is almost entirely unconvincing. It cannot sustain the illusion that what it's presenting is not superficial, timeworn, unintentionally hilarious, and inexplicably complex. It doesn't help that the writing is unbelievably bad on a scene-to-scene basis or that the direction is hopelessly unenlightened (revealing that lack of tonal sensitivity that is often present with a regular TV director). Paul Giamatti, whom everything depends on, throws it all on the line, but it's no use. As my friend notes, he's not skilled enough to overcome such impossible hurdles, especially without acting up a miraculous storm (he gives only an erratic if decent performance, which did win a Golden Globe). Such a film will only appeal to those who are willing to give themselves over to an insufferable collective. Do not take yourself to "Barney's Version" if you do not fit this criteria.

The film starts with Barney Panofsky (Giamatti) in the present day and goes on to cycle through his life from 1974 on. The first few sequences in the past are pointlessly supplied with time cards that give the audience information that they already know or could easily pick up. However, the film suddenly starts moving through time unclearly, coming back to the present and moving out without giving a good sense of where it's going. At this point, when the movie should be barraging us with time cards, it neglects to. In doing this, it confused me to no end, sapping the drama out of many a scene. The makeup, which is nominated for an Oscar, offers absolutely no help, and as a result is ineffective. (Add to that the fact that it is amateurishly noticeable.) Maybe it was hard for director Lewis and his writer Michael Konyves (working from Mordecai Richler's novel) to control their work. If so, they shouldn't have burdened the audience with the result.

The story of Barney for some reason picks up with him in Rome when he's in his 30's. He's chillaxing and experiencing the world and shit with his buddies and hoping to start his life soon with his pregnant fiancee, Clara (Rachelle Lefevre). But she has a stillborn, the unborn baby wasn't his anyways, and an upset Barney storms off. {{{{SPOILER She's depressed by Barney's depression and kills herself SPOILER}}}, providing a one-scene entrance for Saul Rubinek, who is as lousy as he'll ever be. The whole dramatic workings of this first segment are risible, with the making of jarring tone changes and miserable acting by Lefevre and Scott Speedman as close friend Boogie (though I will admit that Speedman goofiness is a bit appealing).

Things progress and Barney, after getting a job, meets and ties the knot with a character played by Minnie Driver, and since I was not taking notes and since the Internet gives no help, she will remain nameless. At their wedding (done up in a flauntingly Jewish fashion), he meets Miriam (Rosamund Pike, who, along with Dustin Hoffman as Barney's father, makes the film mildly tolerable), whom he immediately is attracted to and whom he really wants to be with, even then. She, being the prudent lady that she is, will not be with a married man, and so he must wait and wait and wait and wait and find an excuse to get away from Driver's character.

He does, but not before the film takes great pains to paint their marriage as loveless and shallow. A critical viewer will note that the third marriage may be just as empty. Consider the fact that we never hear Miriam and Barney talk about anything except for the origins of phrases, or the fact that Barney feels the need make a list of conversation topics that includes Saul Bellow's "Herzog" (an ironic gesture) and "All the President's Men." If this is the case, then there is no relationship in the film that is substantial, which is kind of dismal and not the intention.

I won't go on and on about this movie, even though I could. It's just a cliched kitchen sink affair, what with Alzheimer's (always having to be paired with hockey in Canadian films), a dude from Waverly Films (who's also Dustin Hoffman's son), murder, bad song choices, Bruce Greenwood yet again tied with homosexuality, and on and on. The sprawl (this movie is almost 2 and a half hours long) is admirable on a conceptual level, but it plays out poorly. I guess I bottled up a lot of impatience throughout, because when the film got to a certain point, with a line so ridiculous in its enclosure, I had a laugh attack that was almost unstoppable. If I hadn't contained myself in a few seconds more, I would've left as to not be rude. Thank the film's padded corny dialogue towards the end (which for the most part kept me from cracking up) that I didn't, because then I wouldn't have been able to write this review and inform you of the mish-mashing incompetence of "Barney's Version." I still may not have done it justice, but I won't go further. D+

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