BARNEY’S VERSION is one of Modecai Richer’s later works, a beloved book tracing the love foibles of a man who falls for a women who’s attending his (second) marriage.
Richler’s works have to date not faired well in the transition to screen, where the charm and dexterous use of language, and minute glimpses into his beloved Montreal communities never seem to make the cut. BARNEY does a nice job of maintaining the core of the original work, peppering it with enough sense of Richler’s world to make it enjoyable, yet there remains a subtle ingredient that is missing. It’s almost like when concentrating on the plot of his works, necessary in such a reduction of scope in the conversion to screenplay, we’re missing the bigger picture of the original book. Where the book played with differing narrators (the central character, after all, is slowly losing his memory), the film is a fairly straightforward, almost predictable take on the tale of a man growing old while ruing his key mistakes.
Still, these caveat’s aside, BARNEY’S VERSION is an assured work with an excellent ensemble cast. Giamatti is spot on in his hyperactive take on the character. Hoffman, playing the father, is a bit more of a characture, but there’s genuine warmth in the kibitzing between the two greats.
There are plenty of cameos to please any fan of Canadian cinema, with Egoyan and Cronenberg slipping in as directors of the particularly egregious TV show Barney is in charge of (a mountie-oriented work played briefly, in another clever nod, but Paul Gross). Even Deny Arcand shows up as a waiter in a critical scene, another nod to producer Lantos’ past and current pull within the Canadian industry.
This is a sweet, accessible film, light at times but with performances sure to garner notice at awards time. It may not live up to the sweep and candor of the original work, but it’s far from the usual dreck we make in this country (at least in English), and it’s a comfortable, comforting addition to the Candian cinematic landscape.