BY ROBERT HAMMERLE, guest contributor to Hammervision
The best way I can find to describe "Barney's Version" is to have you imagine Larry David, playing himself as he does in HBO's caustic hit series "Curb Your Enthusiasm," reflecting back on the consequences of his self-centered life. Lovable or not, what is the cost a dedicated narcissist pays for spending every day thinking first and foremost of himself.
In "Barney's Version," we find Barney, perfectly played by the wonderful Paul Giamati, contemplating these very questions as he sits in a bar nursing his ever present single malt Scotch and Montecristo Cigar. In his early 60's and confronting increased forgetfulness that he fears may be the onset of Alzheimer's, just what has his mess of a life amounted to? Are his three failed marriages a testament to his own shortcomings or just to the vagaries of life?
Told in a series of flashbacks, Barney revisits critical moments in his life. His first marriage to a young flower child in Rome was destined to fail long before he discovered that she truly hated him. His second marriage to a "Jewish Princess" (played with great aplomb by Minnie Driver) was not helped by the fact that he fell in love with his eventual third wife at his wedding reception. You see, Barney has a number of profound personal issues, commitment to his spouse being one of them.
As noted above, the strength of this movie is found in Paul Giamatti's performance, a role that earned him a Golden Globe award. The comparison to Barney and Larry David is not misplaced, as both are basically amiable renegades who are a bit to anti-social for their own good.
But unlike Larry David's propensity to whine and feel sorry for himself, Barney basically shrugs and accepts his lot as his fate. Part of this is his particular Jewish heritage, a topic explored in similar fashion in the Coen Brothers underrated "A Serious Man" (2009). However, while we found Larry Gopnik in a "Serious Man" trying to conform despite suffering the afflictions of Job, here we find Barney continually rebelling from expected conduct that he finds so rigid and confining.
In looking for guidance, Barney turns to his father, a retired Jewish police officer played by Dustin Hoffman in one of his greatest performances in years. Hoffman's eccentricities provide some of the funniest scenes in the movie, and his relationship with his son serves as the heart of this film.
Barney's third wife, Miriam (Rosamund Pike), serves as the metaphor as to why Barney will never be able to find peace of mind for any length of time. Given the betrayal of her father, she asks of Barney only one thing, namely that he never betrays her. But despite the fact that Barney has obviously found love for the first and only time in his life, you somehow know that he is always destined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
One of the things I truly liked about "Barney's Version" is that there is a little bit of Barney in all of us. You do the best you can in life while trying to live with your shortcomings with a bit of grace and good humor. Or as one pundit once observed, "There are only two perfect people who have ever walked on earth. The first was crucified a little over two thousand years ago, while the other was the guy my ex-wife was going to marry before she married me."
So here's to Single Malt Scotch and a good cigar.