Saturday, 21 April 2012

Barney's Version

My Canadian host decided to show me a good Canadian film! The story is told as Barney (Paul Giamatti) recalls his life - his version of his life. Others would see it differently perhaps. The fact that the film is set in his memory is important as the story ends with the onset of alzheimer's and Barney losing his memory.

Barney is as endearing as he is impossible. I loved him and loathed him in equal measure. He is a politically incorrect hedonist who is unable to take responsibility for the way he treats people and who is unable to exercise any self-control before acting. He does not know what self-restraint means and he is his own worst enemy.

Living a bohemian and indulgent lifestyle with a group of close friends in Rome he does the honourable thing when his girlfriend becomes pregnant and marries her - only to discover at the child's (still) birth that it is not his. He immediately separates from her and in a fit of lover's pique she kills herself.

His uncle gets him into TV production back in his native Montreal and he eventually becomes the producer of a very successful TV show that is truly awful made by his 'Totally Unnecessary Productions' company. This makes him wealthy and he is able to fund his high-class apartment, a mercedes and an endless supply of cigars and whisky.

His father Izzy (Dustin Hoffman), is a retired cop and very Jewish. He fixes Barney up with a Jewry socialite with a wealthy father and they marry. At the reception, Barney encounters Miriam (Rosamund Pike) and confesses to his closest friend Boogie (Scott Speedman) that for the first time in his life he is in love - with Miriam.

Trapped in a stifling marriage with his second wife (Minnie Driver) Barney bombards Miriam with presents, cards and flowers. He plots his escape to allow him to pursue Miriam. Barney's lucky break comes when he catches Boogie and his wife at it in the bedroom of their lake house. The adultery gives Barney the let-out clause he has been looking for and as the ink dries on the divorce papers he is on the phone to Miriam.

To cut a long story short, they marry and have two children and happily enjoy family life for 20+ years. Miriam is portrayed as a wise saint who is good for Barney and who challenges him just enough about the excesses of his lifestyle. Miriam dispenses the kind of wisdom that only a loving wife can. When Miriam want's to return to work as the children flee the nest, Barney objects. Miriam relaunches a successful career as a radio presenter and Barney becomes jealous of this and the Producer Blair.

Increasingly trapped by Barney's drinking, his rudeness to all her friends and his general selfishness, Miriam decides to visit their son in New York for a week. Barney is beside himself being separated from her and seeks solace in a bottle - lot's of bottles. He runs into an actress who once featured in his TV show and a drunken one-night stand ensues. When Miriam returns from New York Barney's guilt causes him to act strangely and he is forced to confess. On his third marriage when he had it all, he still wanted more and couldn't rein in his appetite. Miriam leaves and divorce follows - she marries Blair. Barney keeps on smoking and drinking and gradually begins to forget things as alzheimer's sets in. Barney dies before his time and the clear implication is that it's because of the booze and smoking.

I have not dwelt on the many sub-plots that spin within the story so as not to spoil it for you. There are many strong acting performances in this film - Giamatti won a Golden Globe for his performance, Hoffman is great but for me Pike steals the show as the classy, wise and glamourous Miriam. The make-up was nominated for an Oscar, but I was enchanted by Giamatti's evolving characterisation of the ageing Barney - with hair lines, a paunch and perambulatory style to match.

The film is painful to watch as Barney constantly excels in self-destruction. He clearly does have a soft and tender side but I was left wondering if his blind pursuit of pleasure meant that he could not see or appreciate intimacy and self-giving love in anyway. This is a big part of what makes him such an infuriating character. There are plenty of moral scenarios to ponder as well as the dynamics of the various relationships within the overall story. I really liked this film and commend it to you. I'll give 7.5/10.

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