July 26, 2011

Justify My Netflix: Barney's Version

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)

Barney's Version

Today's movie: Barney's Version, 2010 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix | Wikipedia)

Why I added it to my queue: Because this was the surprise hit of last year's awards season, a character-based dramedy based on a well-loved 1997 Mordecai Richler novel regarding an aging Canadian schlub who is looking back on his checkered, event-filled life, Forrest-Gump style.

The reality: Not too bad, actually, although I confess that I found this a hard film to love; in fact, as played by the always great Paul Giamatti, our titular "hero" is for most of this film's running time a prickly, unprincipled assh-le, which makes it difficult to generate sympathy when bad things start happening to him (and a whole lot of bad things happen to him, which is another strike against the film -- it is just so unrelentingly dark at times that it's sure to turn off much of the "Tuesdays with Morrie" crowd it's obviously being marketed towards). Plus, at least from the way its Wikipedia entry makes it sound, I suspect that the pedestrian-level adapted script by TV veteran Michael Konyves fails to capture a lot of the charm and inventiveness of the original novel; just to cite one example, Barney's increasing memory loss is something apparently established right at the beginning of the book version, cleverly referenced in the text by a series of supposed posthumous footnotes from Barney's son, clarifying certain events that Barney simply gets wrong in his own retelling because of his early-onset Alzheimer's, while in the movie all this information is revealed in the unimaginative straightforward chronological style of a typical television movie. (And indeed, not only is screenwriter Konyves mostly a TV veteran, but so is director Richard J. Lewis, who before this was known mostly as an executive producer of CSI.) But still, it has its charms, not the least of which is simply all the bizarre twists and turns of our protagonist's life, too fascinating to be diluted by a milquetoast adaptation; and of course this is a real actor's showcase as well, the main reason it received its accolades in the first place, including not only Giamatti's astonishing transformation over two hours from a slovenly twentysomething to an even more slovenly seventysomething, but also Dustin Hoffman as an absolutely convincing blue-collar Jewish-cop aging-tough-guy '70s grandfather. It's not a bad film by any means, although I'm not sure if I'd recommend going too far out of your way to actually see it.

Strangest piece of trivia: At various points, this film features cameos from Canadian directors Atom Egoyan (playing a soap-opera director), David Cronenberg (playing yet another director on the same show), Paul Gross (playing the soap opera's main star), Denys Arcand (playing the waiter at Barney's favorite restaurant), Saul Rubinek (playing the rabbi father of Barney's first wife) and Ted Kotcheff (playing a train conductor).

Worth your time? Hmm...yes

Filed by Jason Pettus at 4:11 PM, July 26, 2011. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |