Giamatti’s Barney is a dope you can love

One of the mild irritations of the Oscar nominations was the omission of Giamatti in the Best Actor category. Starting this weekend Twin Cities audiences can catch the performance which netted him the Best Actor Golden Globe for the title role in “Barney’s Version.”

Barney (Paul Giamatti) meets the love of his life Miriam (Rosamund Pike) just minutes after marrying his second wife in “Barney’s Version.” (Image courtesy Sony Pictures Classics)

Based on Mordecai Richler’s last novel, “Barney’s Version” is a glorious romp through the questionable life of the producer of a highly successful, but artistically dubious, Canadian soap opera. Barney Panofsky (Giamatti) is smart in business, but unlucky in love, a man who takes care of his friends and family, while alienating almost all of them, and whose crowning achievement may be falling in love with the woman of his dreams at his own (second) wedding reception.

Director Richard J. Lewis weaves a decades-long story back and forward through his film in such a way that Barney’s knotted life tightens ever more grimly around him. There are his hippy adventures, and first marriage, in Italy, followed by re-entry into the strictures of Montreal life and the expectations of a tradition-bound Jewish community (leading to wedding two) and then Barney’s comically frantic pursuit of true love.

It’s a complex plot, spiced with great actors (Dustin Hoffman as Barney’s street-wise cop father, Minnie Driver as wife number two, and Rosamund Pike as the love of Barney’s life.)

Yet it’s Giamatti who carries the two hours plus of the film with his incredible portrayal of a flawed man who is smart enough to know the right thing to do, but often lacks the strength to follow through. Barney is a complicated man who is driven by love, but continually disappointed in himself and the way the world treats him. Giamatti’s strength is in showing Barney’s utter humanity and playing a character to whom many of us will feel uncomfortably close.

And yes, if it does win the Oscar for best make up, it’s well deserved.

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