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Thursday, June 13, 2024
This 'version' of events will give you perspective

Barney's Version

This 'version' of events will give you perspective

""Barney's Version"" is the saddest comedy you'll see all year. It's a film for old people, it has no likeable characters and it drifts along a stretched out narrative that will probably bore most viewers. So why in the hell am I recommending that you go out and see this film? Well, in short, it's a matter of perspective.

This film is all about perspective. It's about the perspective of truth and how we view our own lives. It's a character piece that is a tribute to the nature of memory. It's all the depressing high-minded bullshit that college students don't want to pay attention to because they're having ""the time of their lives."" I challenge you to go out and see this film. It raises a lot of questions that most people don't like thinking about, but if you trust the film enough to guide you through it, I think you can leave the theater with an interesting examination of a life fully lived.

The film presents itself as an autobiography of a fictional film producer named Barney Panofsky and recounts his past three marriages over the span of his lifetime. Barney's like an alcoholic and misogynistic Forrest Gump. He's been through some shit. His personality consists of the unfortunate combination of being both self-destructive and self-aware at the same time. By the end of his life (when the story begins), he belongs to a rare group of people that has lived through three failed marriages and you can see the toll on his face.

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It's a particularly hard film to summarize or sell because most of the film's intrigue comes toward the end in a narrative twist. When the film finally does reach its climax, it's not so much of a ""Bam-Pow-Gotcha"" twist but more of a personal and moving shift in how we view Barney's story. The best way to summarize the film is through its tone and characters. The tone is the balancing act of adding a comedic aspect to every dramatic moment. The characters that surround Barney include his father (Dustin Hoffman), a retired Jewish officer and fully practicing drunken grandpa, and his three wives: the insane artist (Rachelle Lefevre), the Italian sugar mama (Minnie Driver) and the angel (Rosamund Pike).

There are many reasons that Barney's story is a compelling one, but you'd have to start by giving credit to the author of the novel on which the film is based, Mordecai Richler. He is one of the greatest Canadian authors of the 20th century and is known for his unique and sardonic voice.

Richler passed away four years after publishing ""Barney's Version,"" and it became his greatest piece of work because it explored questions Richler was likely attributing to his own life's end. The story has a fiscal and responsible sense of storytelling that can only come from a seasoned professional. The film has a literary feel to it that might seem a bit dull, but once you start to understand what Richler is trying to say with his main character, the film becomes much more provoking.

Of course, the entire film is doomed without a credible portrayal of Barney's character, when in steps Paul Giamatti with his disgustingly beautiful performance. The reason he's perfect for this role is his ability to make an unlikeable character watchable. One of the most disturbing and annoying rules adopted by Hollywood is that the main character of a film has to be likeable. It's an understandable rule. People like spending time with people they like. Unfortunately, the rule is completely unfaithful to reality. It's tough to spend two hours with a depressing character like Barney, but I find the characters that challenge you in films will always mean more to you at the end of the day then the dime-a-dozen characters that are constantly trying to win you over.

If you have heard of this film before it's likely because of its Oscar nomination for best makeup. I can tell you that it would be a tragedy if this film didn't win this category. The man responsible, Adrien Morot, has been working in makeup nonstop for the last 10 years. I've never seen a better use of makeup to portray the aging of characters in a film. It's a constantly developing art but I haven't seen the age range of late twenties to mid-sixties portrayed so accurately. In an Oscar category where ""best"" usually means ""more,"" this is a rare opportunity to reward a minimalist work of visual genius.

I have one small complaint with the film, a minor pet-peeve. The film does suffer from an unfortunate case of what I like to call ""white people problems."" That definition might not be politically correct, but ever since I saw ""Ordinary People"" in fifth grade, I've had the desire to call out stories where the main conflict is one that only middle or upper class white people would ever have to deal with. There's no doubt that Barney's struggle is real. Richler's story preaches about subjects as universal as life and death. That said, I have trouble believing that people outside of suburban American culture will be able to connect with Barney's story completely.

That tiny grievance aside, ""Barney's Version"" is a very good film. It's a film that grows with you and sticks in your mind. It's a portrait of a man who breathes misanthropy, and most importantly, a chance to see the world through darker and wiser eyes.

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