I’ve now seen the movie Barney’s Version (based on the book of the same name by Canadian author, Mordecai Richler). It is a well-rendered plot set to dislikable characters (led by Barney, himself, played by Paul Giamatti).
The version that Barney is telling is in contrast with that of his police detective rival, who has written a book, which claims that Barney got away with the murder of his own best friend. So it combines a touch of mystery (as we don’t know for sure whether Barney did it till the end), with a trifecta of lave-hate stories (Barney’s various marriages), along with a semi-cautionary tale of over-indulging in various vices (including hockey-viewing, which was rather enjoyable for hockey fans like me).
The mixed-timeline narrative is certainly interesting and well performed by the actors (whose aging makeup is the best I’ve seen since James Woods’ magically gained a few decades in The Ghosts of Mississippi—in contrast with Kate Winslet’s magical lack of aging in the dreadful film The Reader).
However, the trouble with Barney’s Version is that almost every character is a jerk. (Exceptions included Barney’s loyal and entertaining dad, portrayed delightfully by Dustin Hoffman, along with Barney’s second wife, played aptly by Minnie Driver. The latter seems to be the butt of many of the movie’s jokes due to her silly behaviours such as constantly pointing out to people that she has a Master’s degree, but she reveals herself—against Barney’s viciousness—to be genuine and strong as she stands up to Barney’s condescension simply by saying, “Do I talk down to you like that?”) As a result of this mostly unlikeable cast of characters, it is difficult to emotionally invest in the movie.
I’m fully in favour of being entertained by villainous personalties (Jane Austen’s movies taught us that!), but this story is rarely funny (although, many people in my audience were strangely laughing at moments that I thought were too dark and mean to be humourous), and so, by time the story gets to the point where we’re supposed to feel bad for its anti-hero, I found it difficult to care. Nor was the semi-cautionary tale particularly useful to me, because I had no interest in Barney’s lifestyle in the first place.
I suppose, therefore, the film could be helpful to those considering a life of doing exactly as their cravings tell them at all times, but the story doesn’t exactly debunk the glamour of such an existence, so I’m not sure this is the show to be played at the addiction clinics either.
So, in conclusion, you have my permission to see this movie (if only for the parallel hockey timeline) as a diversion if you have nothing better to do, but you also have my approval to miss it if there is anything else playing (such as a hockey game).