"The dizzying comic energy and intellectual vigor of Mordecai Richler's 1997 satire have largely been drained from director Richard J Lewis's agreeable but inevitably lesser version of Barney's Version," writes Justin Chang in Variety. "Absent the novel's wildly entertaining digressions and chronological acrobatics, the strange, decades-spanning tale of Barney Panofsky — thrice-married Montreal Jew, hack TV producer and suspected killer — emerges onscreen as a middle-tier marriage drama distinguished by an excellent Paul Giamatti in a familiar curmudgeon role."
For Michael Rechtshaffen, though, writing in the Hollywood Reporter, Barney's Version is "highly entertaining and arguably the most satisfying Richler screen adaptation to date.... Not since Richard Dreyfuss so capably inhabited the title role in 1974's The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz has a Richler (the author died in 2001) lead character been brought to life as effectively as Giamatti's irascible, rumpled Barney Panofsky."
"Dustin Hoffman also puts in one of his tastiest performances in years as Barney's peppy, irreverent policeman father," notes Lee Marshall in Screen. Still: "The film's main problem is how to translate the book's deliberately unreliable and unfocussed narrative ramble into a script that works. It's a problem that's never quite solved either structurally or tonally. Sometimes the film seems to side with Barney's own savagely ironic, self-deprecating view of life; but it wants to have this and eat its romantic cake too."
"Charting the fortunes and (mostly) misfortunes of Paul Giamatti's eponymous anti-hero, principally his three failed marriages, Lewis and novice screenwriter Michael Konyves have fashioned a busy, baggy flashback structure that races through some key plot points as it leaves others dangling, and never makes good on its literary opening gambit to tell the story as Barney's autobiography." Guy Lodge at In Contention: "But if the construction is awkward, the film's balancing of tones is surprisingly deft; what begins as a raucously funny rom-com for the Sideways set gradually segues into a more melancholy study of what it takes to make relationships work, in or out of marriage, before the third act slides effectively into unisex weepie territory."
Updates, 9/15: Noah Richler, son of Mordicai, has a long piece in the new issue of the Walrus, "My Dad, the Movie, and Me." Here's a snippet: "'Is she the one?' Hoffman's Izzy asked Giamatti's Barney, referring to Miriam, his new love. 'Is she the mother of your children?' And then, not in the pages, 'You want to put your head on her breast for all eternity?' before, on another take, 'I want to bend her over and point her toward Detroit.' [Screenwriter Michael] Konyves remained undisturbed. 'There's a script for a reason,' he said, grinning widely. He was along for the ride and enjoying every minute of it. More takes. 'That's why it's good to work for Clint Eastwood,' said Hoffman, throwing up his arms. 'He does two takes and moves on. Everybody looks like shit, and he gets all the kudos.'"
"Old fashioned but well crafted, it's the sort of adult comedic drama Hollywood hasn't done well in a while," writes Matt Riviera.
Coverage of the coverage: Venice and Toronto 2010. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow The Daily Notebook on Twitter and/or the RSS feed.