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 Mississippiin 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).

13 thoughts on “BARNEY’S DIVERSION”

  1. May I recommend reading the book. Richler is a wonderful and acerbic writer. I don’t see how any of this could have been contained in a movie. Read! It’s even cheaper, if you use the library, and invariably better.

  2. Well put, Natasha! Barney was a bit reckless with his hockey-viewing timing. For those who find themselves with a scheduling conflict between an important hockey witnessing and a significant personal event (such as one’s own wedding), I suggest taping the hockey, and making an announcement at the event that you are recording the game and so request, in lieu of gifts, that no one tell you the score.

  3. A good assumption, Natasha, that the one person you know who liked “The Reader” would be the only one in her camp. Shockingly, however, Clare is not the sole villain in my acquaintance who claims to have enjoyed this piece of book-worshipping propaganda set to music. Indeed, a couple of my own high-ranking family members have admitted to enjoying this contrived tale. And I see (if you look two comments above this one) one of my own Blog readers is threatening me for standing up to it. Luckily, as you’ll read in my reply, while the pen may be mightier than the sword, the book reader has neither weapon in their possession. Hee, hee.

  4. Thank you, Tarrin, for your threatful request for me to take back my lambasting of the reading-worshipping propaganda film, “The Reader”. But whatever will a Reading-obsessed fan do if I don’t do as she instructs? Read me? Hee, hee. I’m prepared for all that you can read at me.

  5. Hee, hee, Natasha, of course SethBlogs would never make any attempt to intimidate its fans to comment on the SethBlog. We at SethBlogs would simply like to offer you protection against whatever threats that may come to you. (So, if you perceived a glare from Seth, it must have been concentration on his face as he looked around to make sure you weren’t in any “danger”.) If you’d like to pay for this “protection” with comments on the Blog, that would be swell.

  6. Thank you, TomD, for your suggestion of reading Mordecai Richler’s version of “Barney’s Version” instead of watching the movie. I don’t doubt that the book is the richer of the two productions – most books are (since they have the advantage of many hours of reading detail to comprise them, whereas movies have only 2 hours with which to work). However, given that books are such a significant time-commitment, I must choose them wisely. In fact, I consider movies about books to be excellent samplers to help me choose what to read. I’m sure you’re right that “Barney’s Version” (the book) is a brilliantly told tale, but since I hated the self-righteous characters tested out in the movie, I don’t think I want to spend a book’s worth of time with them. I will, however, consider another Richler book, assuming the movie made about it isn’t as irritating.

  7. I can’t believe you used the P-word (propaganda) to propagandize your agenda. Exactly what problem do you have with a movie that promotes reading?

  8. Hee, hee, well put, Tarrin. Yes, these are propaganda-warring times that I blog in. As you have demonstrated, I’m not really questioning propaganda – I’m objecting to the contrived way in which the plot pushed its very unoriginal idea that reading will set you free. Actually, I think my other Blog readers might like to read the rest of my answer, so let us continue on the main Blog

  9. I would be remiss, I suppose, if I didn’t also levy the standard Oprah-mocking at those who would criticize me for critiquing a project that promotes glorious reading. That is, some of these critics (I won’t say which) have been known to pick on Ms. Oprah Winfrey for her Book Club, not presumably because she promotes books, but for the way in which she does it. Perhaps, then, my reviewers and I are more in league than we realize?

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