I like Barney’s Version in spite of itself. The main character, Barney Panofsky as played by Paul Giamatti, is not situated into his life, as depicted in the film, with as much clarity as I would like, but, oh, there are moments.
Barney is a television producer who makes a simplistic and very popular sitcom in Montreal but runs her personal life with much more complexity. The film shows his three marriages (he meets his third wife at his second wedding), his close relationship with his father who is a retired police officer, and his close friendship with a drug addict whom Barney may or may not have murdered.
Paul Giamatti rises above the occasional muddle of the plot and works beautifully in a number of scenes with central figures in his life: first wife (Rachelle Lefevre), best friend (Scott Speedman), father (Dustin Hoffman), second wife (Minnie Driver), and, especially, third wife (Rosamund Pike). It’s an excellent cast.
Barney is a bit of an enigma, but the one thing never in doubt is his love for third wife, Miriam. You don’t have to be a good person to “get it right” in certain aspects of life, like love, and watching Barney overcome obstacles to win Miriam’s love – when she is so much more wonderful than he is – gives all of us hope. Surely, if this particular tableau has any authenticity, there must be someone for everyone?
Watching Barney get it right then screw it up is heartbreaking and should serve as a cautionary tale you to hang on for dear life and never court complacency if you’re ever lucky enough to stumble into (or force your way into, as Barney does) the love of your life.
Really, though, I think Barney’s Version touched me most deeply when a Leonard Cohen song was brought into the storyline. That’s when I decided that I like the movie despite its flaws. And, for Cohen and Giamatti, this is why I have continued to think about this film and its depiction of love, loss, and longing.
After all, has any singular musical artists ever captured the myriad of emotions that go along with our deepest desires and darkest fears better than Leonard Cohen? Sort of makes me want to sit down and watch McCabe & Mrs. Miller or The Good Thief or even the “Hallelujah” scene in The Watchmen or, maybe better, break out my iPod and take a long walk.
Instead, I have class prep today and will watch (not for the first time) Titicut Follies and Don’t Look Back. That’s sure to weigh on my mind in different ways…will Bob Dylan have the staying power in my musings next week that Leonard Cohen has had over them the last one?