Friday, December 3, 2010

Movie with Abe: Barney’s Version

Barney’s Version
Directed by Richard J. Lewis
Released December 3, 2010

Meet Barney. He’s the kind of guy who walks around seeming grumpy all the time, yet you get the sense that he hasn’t been dealt a fair hand, and that his fate may perhaps not be entirely his fault. “Barney’s Version” is a non-sequitur recollection of Barney’s three marriages and the ways in which his life seems to ruin itself while he stands by watching. Barney is a lovable enough shlub that it’s hard not to feel bad for him, though faith in the title character diminishes as he continues to make the same mistakes and fail to do the right thing in many situations. Barney’s story is an entertaining collection of amusing events with some moments more memorable and well-realized than others.

A film about a man with three wives is bound to have colorful performances, and that is does. Paul Giamatti is a great grump, and while he’s not as impressive as he was in films like “Cinderella Man,” “Sideways,” and “American Splendor,” he’s playing the part as dutifully as he can. His most memorable wife is unquestionably Minnie Driver, who goes all out in her depiction of a vain and incessantly chatty mismatch for Barney. Rosamund Pike is a more puzzling choice as Barney’s clear favorite Miriam, looking lost yet so alluring to our title character with brown hair and a shaky American accent (see “Made in Dagenham” instead for a wondrous performance from this year from the lovely Pike). Mark Addy as a vindictive cop trying to pin a murder on Barney is a similarly strange selection, while Bruce Greenwood is wonderful as always as a kindly neighbor whom Barney suspects is getting too close to one of his wives. The most welcome turn is that of Dustin Hoffman, who hasn’t done much of note in recent years, as Barney’s loud-mouthed, stubborn, hilarious father.

With some of its players at the ready to instill scenes throughout the film with the appropriate energy and humor, “Barney’s Version” manages to spread out its stronger moments somewhat evenly. Yet there’s an inexplicable shift in tone that comes midway through the film and reasserts itself later on, inserting the kind of foreboding mystery that works well in a Coen brothers film but doesn’t have much of a place here. If nothing else, “Barney’s Version” is thoroughly entertaining. Beyond that, its narrative is more effective as a string of vignettes than the cohesive, coherent story of one man and the many people in his life.


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