Canadian Pastoral: Richard J. Lewis's "Barney's Version"

by robbiefreeling
January 14, 2011 6:58 AM
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Barney Panofsky, the protagonist of Barney’s Version, is, in a word, incorrigible. A derailed-wedding-party scene near the beginning of this adaptation of the late Québécois novelist Mordecai Richler’s last novel, written by Michael Konyves and directed by TV veteran Richard J. Lewis, hammers this fact home most forcefully. Getting sloppily drunk in the midst of his increasingly disapproving new in-laws, Barney (Paul Giamatti, in Duplicity hair-trigger-temper mode throughout) spends the reception for his second wedding, to a well-to-do harpy (Minnie Driver), trying to avoid the obligatory chair-hoisting festivities so he can follow the progress of a pivotal hockey game. (Barney’s hockey fandom is one of a handful of persistent reminders that this film takes place in Montreal.) He finishes the night by pursuing a mysterious guest at the wedding (Rosamund Pike) all the way to her departing train, where she impresses him further by offering coolly practical demurrals to his professions of love at first sight while casually putting down her mass-market paperback copy of Saul Bellow’s Herzog—also presumably reaffirming the literary territory Lewis and Konyves intend to cover, as Richler himself is often grouped with American titans Philip Roth and Bellow as a chronicler of irrepressible Jewish masculinity. It should be added that during this entire sequence Barney has on his person the pistol that his retired-cop father, Izzy Panofsky (Dustin Hoffman), has given him as a wedding present.

It sounds like proudly madcap indie quirk, but it isn’t quite that. It is something that’s occasionally altogether bracing, and Barney’s Version is at its best when, as in the above described wedding scene, its main character’s incorrigibility seems to have permeated his entire surroundings. Read Benjamin Mercer's review of Barney's Version.

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