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MOVIE REVIEW: Barney’s Version

An enjoyable movie about a schmuck

(L-R) Paul Giamatti as Barney and Dustin Hoffman as Izzy in "Barney's Version."

(L-R) Paul Giamatti as Barney and Dustin Hoffman as Izzy in "Barney's Version."

  • (L-R) Paul Giamatti as Barney and Dustin Hoffman as Izzy in "Barney's Version."
  • Paul Giamatti as Barney in "Barney's Version."
  • Paul Giamatti as Barney and Rosamund Pike as Miriam in "Barney's Version."
  • Jake Hoffman as Michael in "Barney's Version."
  • Paul Giamatti as Barney and Scott Speedman as Boogie in "Barney's Version."
  • Paul Giamatti as Barney and Minnie Driver as 2nd Mrs. ?P? in "Barney's Version."
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Giamatti won the much deserved Golden Globe for this, and it baffles me he didn’t get an Oscar nomination. His performance was better than these three that got nominated: Jeff Bridges (True Grit), James Franco (127 Hours), and Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network).

The cast is rounded out by Dustin Hoffman, playing a funny ex-cop who thinks everyone is anti-Semitic. Hoffman’s son Jake plays Giamatti’s son and is great in his small role.

Minnie Driver pulls off a naggy Jewish woman perfectly (and she looks sexy driving off angry in a red XKE, which was used better than the red XKE that blew up in The Mechanic).

Saul Rubinek, who always pops up as interesting characters (I loved him in Julia and True Romance), plays a Hasidic Jew that’s the father of Giamatti’s first wife. There will be two more wives to follow, but hey – this movie does follow 40 years of his life.

That made this two hour movie seem a bit long to a few in the group of 15 I went with, although they all still liked it.

One person in my group thought Giamatti was “such a schmuck, I found it hard to like him.” And that’s fine. Just as his Miles character and Thomas Hayden Church weren’t the most likable men in Sideways, you still enjoy the film.

If you have to root for somebody in a movie, you have Rosemund Pike, who plays the last of his wives. She is a saint, and some may have complaints about why she’d even marry such a schlub.

The way it was written, it all works. She isn’t fond of his courting her while he’s still married to Driver. The scene with him chasing her down at his own wedding (which is shown in the commercials), is one of the few scenes in the movie I didn’t like. It’s unrealistic and cliché on a few levels.

Another reason to like Pike, and the way the script was written, is when she gets angry because Giamatti would rather sit in a bar (the appropriately named Grumpy’s) getting drunk watching a hockey game for the hundredthtime. He misses her first on-air radio interview, and she doesn’t throw a vase at the wall or scream. She doesn’t make him go sleep on the couch. She merely points out how disappointed she is in him. Now that’s the kind of realistic writing I like in a movie.

All the drinking and fights with friends (not just spouses), does remind you of the much better Sideways.

Giamatti toned down his neurotic behavior, which worked better for this character. The same can be said for Hoffman, who is a crude lothario, but not an over-the-top caricature like in the Focker films.

The movie could’ve been edited a bit better, and I would’ve liked more to have been done with the missing person sub-plot (the way it concluded, many won’t understand it, but it is absolutely hysterical).

Perhaps making Giamatti a tad more charming might have added some depth to the character, and helped the audience see why Driver -- a pretty, rich, intelligent (she has a degree, as she tells anyone who will listen), and demanding woman -- would ever marry him.

Overall, this was a very enjoyable two hours to spend with a character you might not want to spend 15 minutes with in real life. That’s the sign of a good movie.

I could almost smell the cigar smoke wafting through the screen. And who wouldn’t want to smoke a Monte Carlo while watching the Stanley Cup, and listening to a soundtrack that gives us Donovan, lots of Leonard Cohen (it was Canada), and the best use of Dusty Springfield since Pulp Fiction.

This movie gets a B.