This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 29th May 2011
Sometimes a film is so laden with casting coups you can’t quite believe it’ll be as good as you hope. Thankfully, the ensemble in Barney’s Version seem to be having the time of their lives, and the resulting film is a treat.
Paul Giamatti (best known for 2004’s Sideways but wonderful since) plays Barney Panofsky, whose three marriages, various business ventures, exotic travels, characterful family members and a murder accusation provide ripe fare for cinema.
We meet him, drunk and embittered, towards the end of this story, when life insists he casts an eye back over the slings and arrows. Following his first ill-fated marriage (“She’s a conversation piece, not a wife!”), Minnie Driver steals some scenes as Wife No.2, the Jewish princess at whose wedding reception Barney falls for Rosamund Pike’s exquisite Miriam (and, appalling as this seems, we can understand why). Dustin Hoffman offers superb support in every sense as Barney’s loyal dad, and Scott Speedman (no doubt relieved to be free from Underworld) is enjoyable as the womanising wingman.
Based on Mordechai Richler’s deservedly prize-winning comic novel, this is a blast from first scene to last, though you leave the cinema glad to have experienced Barney’s bittersweet version of events vicariously, and not to have had to live it.