1 February 2011


My experience of Barney's Version in the cinema is something that I can't quite explain. I recall taking a bar of chocolate in with me, and eating it. But somewhere in the next two hours of what felt like sleeping with my eyes open, I ended up with chocolate smeared all over the front of my trousers. I only noticed this when the lights came up at the end, and I have no explanation at all.

Rest assured, my memory of the film is lucid enough that I can review it. This is basically the life story of Barney Panofsky and the loves of his life from the 1970s to the present. Across this span of four decades, he is married twice before meeting his true love, Miriam, at his second wedding reception and deciding to pursue her affections. In amongst all of this, he is also accused of murder and annoyed by the ins and outs of his successful TV production company, Totally Unnecessary Productions.

I'm not going to sink to making the Totally Unnecessary Production gag, mostly because there's actually good in here. But like the Darth Vader to my Luke Skywalker, the bad experience of watching it is what rises to the surface more than anything else for me. You may be inclined to disagree, seeing as how the film has a healthy 85% Certified Fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes. Why should you believe me, the guy who won't make the relevant pun but resorts to a Star Wars reference, of all things?

Well, I was there. I was the only one there, for that matter, so my REM-like experience of the film didn't disturb anyone else in the cinema. And having been there, I occasionally turn to my personal blog to exhume my demons about why I just outright disliked a film. Just as I would get angry with anyone or anything else for wasting my time, it's clear that you could shave half an hour out of Barney's Version's 132 minutes without even trying.

Barney's first wife is so disparate from the plot that she disappears after the first 15 minutes, and it's particularly pointless when you see the way that her exit is glossed over for most of the rest of the film. Similarly, the murder accusation plotline goes nowhere, only very occasionally bobbing in and out of sight to remind you that it's there, and that there's some kind of narrative drive to this thing. To some extent, it plays with the popular device of the unreliable narrator, but become more like the bloody long-winded narrator. It's not enough that the film spans four decades- stuff should actually be happening. When one of the only interesting factoids I can tell you about the film is that Atom Egoyan appears in a very minor role, it has to be said that in all honesty, nothing is happening here.

The only thing that stimulated me was wondering quite why Barney was so damn attractive to Rachelle Lefevre, Minnie Driver and Rosamund Pike. For her part, Pike is as excellent as always, and really sells Miriam as Barney's soulmate despite the way he mistreats all of the women in his life. Likewise, Paul Giamatti as good as you can be with such an unengaging character, and for how much work he put in, his Golden Globe win for this role was well deserved. There's nothing actually wrong with the cast, actually- even Dustin Hoffman, who went some way towards getting me to forgive him for succumbing to the paycheck for Little Fockers as Barney's father, a policeman with eccentric views on the limits of brutality.

In fact, there's nothing wrong with Barney's Version as far as the cast, the direction, the soundtrack or the excellent and Oscar-nominated make up effects are concerned. And yet the very experience of watching it was what the word "soporific" was made for. It can only be the script, which takes far too much dialogue to say far too little, and which could have been liberally cut to make for a more bearable watch. Even before I sat down and watched the thing, I had little motivation to see it, except for the purpose of reviewing it. You don't have to review it, so don't go. It's an accomplishment, on paper, but in reality, it's almost entirely devoid of enjoyment.

Barney's Version is now playing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Barney's Version, why not share your comments below?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.


Anonymous said...

Did you actually see the film? I really enjoyed this film and would recommend it. Paul Giammati was excellent.

Mark said...

I did see it, hence the review. And as I said in the review, Paul Giamatti was good. I just found nothing to like, in there. Glad you enjoyed it though.