I will start this by saying that I have not read the novel this is based upon, and I am only speaking to what I experienced from watching the film.
The protagonist of this film, Barney Panofsky, is not a character I would choose to watch for the entirety of a film. I do understand that the protagonist in this film isn’t meant to be particularly likeable and I don’t have a problem with that. I actually like that idea. My problem is that the character of Barney as portrayed in the film is not a very interesting character. He doesn’t really come off as all that intelligent, although the character is certainly convinced that he is (making his constant smug comments that much more irritating), and he isn’t particularly charismatic. I feel like there is supposed to be distinct wit in his character, but it’s not being shown to me properly. This character somehow goes through three marriages, each time marrying quite a reasonably attractive lady, and as an audience member I’m completely baffled. What could a woman possibly see in this man? He’s physically very unattractive, and he’s also ugly on the inside. In addition, he tries to be witty and it generally doesn’t work all that well.
The movie stumbles along sloppily as he develops these relationships, beginning with his marriage to Rachele. He only marries her because she is supposedly carrying his child, then we discover that it wasn’t really his child and a stillborn. I think these events are supposed to affect him deeply, but the story is moving too fast and we never see that happen. It doesn’t settle with us or with the character. This key traumatic event does not resonate. He quickly goes off to Canada to direct some TV soap and somehow makes shitloads of money off of it.
Then he marries his second wife, played by Minnie Driver (she doesn’t do that great of a job, but the script is very contrived so she’s not entirely to blame) and he acts like an asshole at the wedding. Oh yeah, Dustin Hoffman is introduced here, and his character is just as poorly developed as the rest. Anyway, at his own wedding Barney gets drunk, watches a hockey game, then proceeds to hit on a lady he spots across the room. He falls in love immediately, just because she knows what brand of cigar he’s smoking (I think we’re supposed to buy this as a true account of love at first sight). Overwhelmed by his unjustified love for this girl, he chases her around creepily until she’s somehow flattered by it. The scenes continues to move at the speed of a brand-new Maserati, and due to this, not nearly enough detail is given. He dates her, acts like an alcoholic asshole, and then she falls in love with him. Yeah, that totally makes sense.
As the audience, I get the lucky privilege of watching this story til the bitter end of Barney’s life. It’s probably meant to be sad as he get’s senile and faces his mortality, but I don’t like this character, at all. Nothing about him is appealing or interesting. I’m sure this is supposed to be the tale of a misunderstood genius, but I see no genius, and I don’t think he’s all that misunderstood. He’s just a dick. I want him to kick the bucket.
I’m sure if the character had been illustrated with the depth he probably has in the novel, I’d enjoy the film more. As it stands, Barney’s Version is the contrived tale of a complete dick. Paul Giamatti really tries to add depth to the character that isn’t evident in the writing, and I respect his valiant efforts. His performance is the reason I’m giving this two stars.