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In the very first film class we ever took, way back in high school, we learned that what you take away from a film has a lot to do with what you bring in, emotionally or historically, in the first place. If you are young enough that you still have vibrant grandparents in your life, Barney's Version is probably not for you. For those of parenting age and up, which includes caring for aging parents as well as growing kidlets, Barney's Version is.
IN SHORT: Best of the Year #4. [Rated R for language and some sexual content. 132 minutes]
Barney's Version is also, with the cautions of that first paragraph in place, the very rare "chick flick for men". Cranky rarely gets emotional at movies, period, but this time out . . . Barney's Version turned us into a pitiful, emotionally wrecked shell of a man, sobbing his guts out in a very comfortable screening room. Gee, if word gets out that for once a dating couple could go in to see a movie and the guy comes out in tears, Barney's Version may be doomed. Luckily there's a whole messa femmes in the dating equation that like to let the tears flow. If the film works for them, it will go very well.
Once Upon A Time, Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti) lived the freestyle life in Rome. As Barney's Version begins, the title character has surprised his buddies by popping up with Clara (Rachelle Lefevre), a hot shiksa wife in tow. For those whose knowledge of Yiddish is fueled by watching Dinner With Schmucks, "shiksa" means a non-Jewish woman. Depending on whether it is pronounced by a male or a female, the word is either a description or a diss. That would take too long to explain]. Marriage and the freestyle life do not mix well and the marriage ends suddenly and not well.
Relocating to Montreal with the promise of a television gig, Barney is struck dumb by true and undeniable love on the day of his second marriage. The one problem? Said true and undeniable love was not the woman he had just married (who is played by Minnie Driver, who looks quite good in a negligee). While Barney is righteously and properly rejected by the lovely Miriam (Rosamund Pike) again and again, happiness eventually occurs in the most unexpected manner.
Said happiness involves a policeman's service revolver -- a wedding present from Barney's beat cop father Izzy (Dustin Hoffman); the cuckolding of Barney by his BFF Boogie (Scott Speedman) and said BFF's mysterious disappearance after Barney's gun is discharged twice in Boogie's direction by Barney, after a heckuva lot of drinking. Detective O'Hearne (Mark Addy), the top cop on the scene, smells murder the second he gets the case. The investigation that follows brings O'Hearne nose to nose against an angry Izzy. It also provides the material to let the Detective ride what fame his book "With Friends Like These" will bring him long after his official retirement.
All that aside, by the time Barney gets it right, with the successful career as a television writer/producer;a happy marriage with two kids (one of each) and a house in the country, nothing on Earth is going to screw it up. Save a truly unforgivable mistake made by Barney. Thus you have Barney's Version, which lets a whole passel of A-listers rip your heart out. It's mostly Giamatti and Pike's story that does the tearing, and a good hunk of that happens in a piece of story we're not going to spoil. Pike's Miriam is, if you didn't get the earlier hint, wife number three; the true love of Barney's life. More than that we will not say.
By the time the film Barney's Version is over, the mystery of Boogie's disappearance will be solved. Only Barney will figure it out but, for reasons we won't tell, he can't tell anyone the answer to the question of "What Happened to Boogie?" By the time we figured it all out the tears were flowing so freely that said revelation hit like a whack across the back of the head with a fraternity pledge board.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Barney's Version, he would have paid . . .
There's a lot more to this film than we've written. We just were too emotionally wrecked to get it all finished when we saw the film two month's before release. If we can suck up the guts to watch it a second time now that it is in release, maybe we'll make it easier on y'all. As far as we're concerned -- and we've had some interesting arguments with other critics -- Barney's Version is neck and neck against The Kids Are All Right as the best of the year.
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