Starting out somewhat deceptively as a mystery – just how did Barney Panofsky's best friend Boogie die? – Barney's Version, an adaptation of the Mordecai Richler novel directed by Richard J. Lewis, soon morphs into a smart and poignant story about a man recalling his past as he simultaneously loses his memory.
Barney's trip down memory lane is triggered by the publication of a book by a disgruntled police detective (Mark Addy) who believes Barney (Paul Giamatti) murdered his pal Boogie (Scott Speedman) and disposed of the never-found body.
Despite the subjective point-of-view, Barney's recollections – from his youth in Rome, where we first meet Boogie, living la dolce vita with Barney and fellow youthful idealists, to the present day – are warts and all. We witness his self absorption and his quick temper; his fondness for a drink, usually at the most inopportune times; and his even greater fondness for women.
Barney loves women but seems incapable of loving them. A failed first marriage in Italy followed by a second marriage to a motormouth Jewish Princess (Minnie Driver in fine comic form), which sours not too long after the nuptials, leaving him 0-2. That is until his third marriage, to Miriam (Rosamund Pike), a beautiful and smart woman whom he actually meets at his second wedding, and continues to pursue from a distance.
All of this may make Barney sound like a jerk, and he probably is. But he's an incorrigible one (a trait no doubt inherited from his father, wonderfully played by Dustin Hoffman) rather than malicious, and as played by Paul Giamatti, he's hard not to like. Fast becoming one of my favourite actors, Giamatti's turn in Barney's Version adds to his recent run of success which includes Cold Souls (2009), The Last Station (2009), and the TV miniseries John Adams.
Then there are his unforgettable performances in American Splendor (2003) and Sideways (2004), the latter criminally overlooked for an Oscar nomination though somewhat remedied the next year with a Supporting Actor nod for Cinderella Man. I'm eagerly anticipating the release of Win Win later this year; Giamatti in a dramedy directed by Tom McCarthy (of The Station Agent and The Visitor fame) promises all sorts of delights.
Deservingly, Giamatti won the 2010 Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy/Musical for Barney's Version, a rare show of good taste by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association considering they had nominated Johnny Depp twice (Alice In Wonderland, The Tourist) in that category. You should show similar good taste and check it out.