Friday, July 8, 2011

Barney's Version (Richard J. Lewis, 2010) -- C

With a biopic (in this case, pseudo-biopic), it's all about form over content. Like any number of dutiful, but unremarkable biopics from the last few years (Ray, Kinsey, Frida, etc.), Barney's Version takes the episodic route, encompassing many years into the span of 2+ hours. Bad choice, though undoubtedly done to maintain a degree of reverence to Mordecai Richler's novel. Nevertheless, redundancy and complacency result, as neurotic asshole Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti) goes through three marriages, years of ridicule, and even a murder investigation. Director Richard J. Lewis finds no way to transcend a literal presentation, shooting with a pedestrian's eye, and failing to encompass any sort of mounting tension. Each scene is so self-contained, enabling a frustrating start-stall effect. Furthermore, even the scenes themselves mundanely trot through larger themes of artistic failure, Jewish guilt, and cultural ennui. Lewis has no tonal/conceptual vision for either Barney or his film (Giamatti and Dustin Hoffman give strong efforts, nonetheless), resulting in minimal to non-existent resonance, especially given the unconvincingly sentimental conclusion.

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