News / USA

Life's Disorder Takes Center Stage in Comedy, 'Barney's Version'

Paul Giamatti as Barney
Paul Giamatti as Barney


Alan Silverman

The final novel by acclaimed Canadian author Mordecai Richler is now a motion picture starring American actor Paul Giamatti as the prickly and complex Barney Panofsky, recounting the high and low points of his checkered life. Here's a look at Barney's Version.

There is more to that tender scene with Mr. and Mrs. Barney Panofsky. Yes, he has met the woman of his dreams, but she is not his new bride; and complicating matters - as Barney so often does - they met at his wedding to that new bride.

Life always seems to be playing jokes on Barney, even when he turns to his beloved father - retired police detective Izzy Panofsky - for some paternal wisdom:

"You're talking to someone who knows how hard marriage can be. In the beginning it's all briskets and lah-de-dah and ain't life grand; but soon enough real life starts, right?"

"This is the paternal wisdom I'm going to get?"

Left to Right: Paul Giamatti as Barney and Minnie Driver as 2nd Mrs. “P”
Left to Right: Paul Giamatti as Barney and Minnie Driver as 2nd Mrs. “P”

His work as a successful TV show producer in Montreal is easy compared with trying to figure out how to end his marriage so he can pursue Miriam. Fortunately (for Barney, at least), finding Mrs. P in the arms of his best friend solves the problem.

Abrasive, acerbic, arrogant: you can go through a whole alphabet of adjectives to describe Barney; and Paul Giamatti, who calls the character a "lovable rogue," says he never worried about Barney's antics pushing audiences away.

Paul Giamatti as Barney
Paul Giamatti as Barney

"I am all for pushing people as far as I can," admits Giamatti. "I kind of like to see how far I can push people. Fortunately this had built-in breaks in it so I wasn't going to do that in this because he does have many moments of not being so horrible and hard to take; but I sort of find it interesting to make people uncomfortable and challenge them to like somebody who is not terribly likeable."

In fact, Barney - at least in his own version of his life - can be downright easy to love. He must be to get three women to fall for and marry him. Rosamund Pike plays Miriam, the true love of Barney's life (the one he meets at his wedding to the second Mrs. P); and Pike says her character is wooed by his charm and determination.

Left to Right: Paul Giamatti as Barney and Rosamund Pike as Miriam
Left to Right: Paul Giamatti as Barney and Rosamund Pike as Miriam

"He does woo her, but interestingly, it is not the flowers, the posh lunch or wooing her by taking her to a fancy hotel or flying to New York to meet her; it's kind of the little things," explains Pike. "It's seeing him pass out drunk, but knowing that's because he was nervous. It's coming into the room and seeing five ties laid out and 15 shirts and realizing that this guy was nervous and how much it mattered to him."

Pike prepared for playing Miriam by meeting author Mordecai Richler's widow, Florence, who was the inspiration for the character (and who he really did meet and fall in love with on the day he married his second wife). Barney Panofsky appears in several Richler stories as something of the author's alter ego and Barney's Version, published in 1997, turned out to be his last novel. Richler died at age 70 in 2001, but not before starting to work on the film version with producer Robert Lantos, who continued the project as a tribute to his longtime collaborator and friend.

"The challenge of the whole thing was to honor the book and to preserve the spirit and integrity of it," explains Lantos, "and find a way to translate it into a two-hour visual experience that stands up to the vast majority of the audience who has never read the book and never will."

"I cannot believe that this really happens. It really happens. Just like that. It's amazing, no? And I don't care if it happened on my wedding night or at a funeral or my deathbed. It happened."

Barney's Version is directed by Richard Lewis and the cast features Minnie Driver as the "second Mrs. P." Dustin Hoffman is Barney's father Izzy and Scott Speedman plays his lifelong best friend, Boogie. Screenwriter Michael Konyves adapted the novel into a script and Barney's Version was shot on location in Montreal, Rome and New York City.

** Paul Giamatti won a Golden Globe for his role in Barney's Version on January 16, 20101

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