If “Barney’s Version” does one thing really well, it’s recreate the blithe comic tone of the Mordecai Richler novel on which it is based.
This faithfulness has everything to do with casting. Director Richard J. Lewis and producer Robert Lantos’s big screen “Barney’s Version” — which premiered at the Venice Film Festival last week and opened on Sunday at the Toronto International Film Festival — puts Paul Giamatti in the role of Barney Panofsky, a charismatic curmudgeon who wastes through women at nearly the same rate as he does cigarillos.
Like Richler’s 1997 novel (the Montreal writer’s last before his death in 2001), the film portrays large chunks of Panofsky’s life, from his days slumming it in Rome with his starving artiste buddies (including Scott Speedman as long-time friend Boogie), to his career as a producer for the lucrative Montreal television studio “Unnecessary Productions,” to his three marriages. Tolstoy had that line about all unhappy families being unhappy in their own ways. Tightening the scope of this observation to focus on connubial un-bliss, we soon find that Barney’s marriages prove equally, if uniquely, troubled.
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