The film in which Paul Giamatti gets to make out with Rosamund Pike, Rachelle Lefevre and Minnie Driver. Why did he take this role again?
I apologise for the cold open, Paul Giamatti is awesome and should be shown respect, and aspersions should not be cast on his reasons for taking a given role when so clearly he took it for reasons relating to artistic integrity. And Barney's Version is nothing if not a showcase for Giamatti to do just about everything, a challenge the guy rises to. One could say that elsewhere the film is a fairly generic life story bit, that doesn't really go anywhere new, that there's way too much beatnik for the sensitive palettes of modern audiences and you'd be right. But Barney's Version is one of those films made viable by performances, even if the film in and of itself is sort of average in that indie kind of way. You can't help but enjoy yourself when watching an actor like Giamatti, and to be fair, Dustin Hoffman puts in a good shift as his dad.
The Citizen Kane model though is looking a little worn around the edges these days, and the problem with films that span 50 or so years like this is that everything becomes generalities, story moments and themes don't get the layering they need so urgent is the need to move to the next period in time, and for example, Giamatti's relationship with first wife Lefevre plays too lazily in bohemian stereotypes and is beyond skeletal. If anything I would have preferred the whole film to be about his relationship with Ms. Pike, because that had the potential to grow into something different. If the story suffers though, its only Giamatti's gain as he is thusly relied on to carry every fucking thing, from the emotional core of the film to the comic relief to anything else you can think of. But the problem with that is that Barney's Version isn't a film, It's a showcase.
There's enough talent here to sort of make that OK, Hoffman is great in a role that almost has no place in the story, but is more interesting then about 75% of the things that are actually in the story, which kind of brings me to my closing point. The film tries to do way too much, not thematically, but in terms of sheer quantity, and this simply hurts what does work, such as the bulk of the latter half when it focuses in on his last marriage with Pike. Story-telling ambition is best measured in thematic scope rather then a literal equivalent, and considering that faux-biopics are consumed by their own intent. Shit got real a bit there, so I'll appropriately end the review with a cheap joke to clarify. As James Cameron would say, sometimes less is more guys.