Barney is impulsive, selfish and unapologetically offensive and suddenly he falls in love: he then continues to be all these things. Barney’s Version is not about how the relationships of its central character (excellently embodied by Paul Giamatti) change him, but instead about how his friendships, three marriages, and his relationship with his father bring out different aspects of a complicated personality. It is this that gives the film a very watchable authenticity. Barney is not your standard loveable rogue – his awful behaviour is well and truly awful, but he is also capable of believable moments of kindness, charm and, when he meets Rosamund Pike’s character,
love at first sight.
Told through flashbacks, the story of Barney’s romances and offences, from his first marriage through to his old age, illustrates the destructive effect of Barney’s unwavering self-assurance and single-mindedness upon the people he loves, marries, or both. However, he is never simply the villain and the film’s trajectory takes us on a tour of entertaining characters. Minnie Driver’s spoilt daddy’s girl and Dustin Hoffman’s lewd and uncultivated ex-cop both earn their fair share of laughs, whilst Barney blunders through existence and tries to shake off the detective on his tail who is convinced he is to blame for the disappearance of his heroine-addled best friend.
It is an entertaining ride, but not too entertaining. Whilst Barney’s identity is stark and clear, that of the film is less so – not funny enough to be a dark comedy, not dramatic enough to be a moving biography. Set in Italy, Montreal and New York, it is certainly great to look at and Pike’s ability to (almost) convincingly play someone old enough to be the mother of two teenage children is rather impressive. Perhaps, after all, it is the slightly off-centre feel of the film that is the main strength of Barney’s Version. Whatever you feel about its ending and conclusion, there is a certain insidious charm deriving from the fact that if there is a message somewhere in Barney’s story, the
film itself is not going to give you any help in finding it.