In many ways the exemplary Canadian film, Barney’s Version rolls onto DVD and Blu-Ray today, just in time for July 1st. I reviewed the film back in December and loved it; however, after re-reading the novel this summer, I even more impressed by how well screenwriter Michael Konyves adapted Mordecai Richler’s gargantuan complex novel. Barney’s Version is a rare gems that fully captures the spirit of the novel.
Much of the success comes from the perfect casting of the film’s key roles. Paul Giamatti’s Barney is a hilarious boor, and the actor’s embodiment of the role nicely places Barney alongside the other “beautiful losers” of Canadian arts. Equally good are Dustin Hoffman as Barney’s father and Minnie Driver as The Second Mrs. Panofsky, both of whom excel in their limited screen time. (And to think Hoffman originally turned down this role!) While Giamatti, Hoffman, and Driver deservedly triumphed at this year’s Genie Awards (Giamatti also won a Golden Globe), my favourite performance in the film comes from Rosamund Pike as Barney’s third wife, Miriam. Thanks to Pike’s grace and unforgettable charm, the muse of Richler’s novel is perfectly captured on screen. “Miriam, Miriam, my heart’s desire.”
Admittedly, the film received some criticism earlier in the year because for being a prominent Canadian production headlined by non-Canadian stars. In some ways, Barney’s Version demonstrates the barbarian invasions that prevent our industry from nurturing its own talent by capitalizing on foreign talent. Back in March, in his essay on why Barney’s Version deserved to win the Genie, Ottawa Citizen critic Jay Stone mockingly observed the absence of Canadian actors is but one of the many traits that make Barney’s Version the “quintessential Canadian film.” At the same time, though, I doubt the filmmakers could have found anyone better to inhabit these roles than Giamatti, Pike, Hoffman, and Driver; moreover, without these stars, the film probably would not have gained so much exposure internationally. Ironically, the Canadian actors who do have prominent roles – Rachelle Lefevre, Bruce Greenwood, and Scott Speedman – play the American characters of Barney’s Version!
So, during this long-weekend, make sure to stop by the video store and collect one of the very best “Made in Canada” features of recent years. If, by some chance, all copies happen to be out, then opt for other recent titles like Modra, Funkytown or, for the really adventurous, Score: A Hockey Musical! However, if none of these home-grown moviea happens to be available…mosey on over to Chapters and treat yourself to a copy of Richler’s book!