Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti) is introduced as a hard-drinking, cigar-smoking, foulmouthed 65-year old television producer. After a hilarious opening scene involving his ex-wife, Barney is stunned by some bad news. A detective has published a book about a murder that happened years ago – the murder of Barney’s best friend Boggie (Scott Speedman). The detective was sure Barney was the murderer. As Barney flips through that book with disgust, we see him reflect on what happened. We see “Barney’s Version”.
Despite the murder mystery premise, Barney’s Version can be considered a comedy. It’s not about the murder; it’s about Barney’s life- its ups and downs. It’s the lighter side of many grave things. Barney is the kind of guy that had nothing going for him. Neither looks nor money or intellect of any sort. In fact, he had all the flaws any average man would. After marrying twice for all the wrong reasons, Barney finally meets the girl of his dreams – Miriam Grant (Rosamund Pike). He meets her on the day of his own wedding, chases her to the train and professes his love at first sight. Her surreal beauty and magical voice captivate his very being. He pursues her when he is still married; he even pursues her after his divorce. The circumstances that led to that divorce are the very same circumstances that led to the Boggie’s death. But through all of this, Barney still continues to pursue the love of his life until she finally gives in. But Barney is an average Joe, which means he screws up even the best things in his life. After making several mistakes all through his life, he finally deteriorates into the shadow of the Alzheimer’s disease.
However sad and pathetic Barney’s life might sound, it isn’t. Director Richard J. Lewis has managed to craft a funny and touching account of Barney’s life. Adapted from Morechai Richler’s novel, “Barney’s Version” has some very distinct highs. Barney’s relationship with his father (Dustin Hoffman) and his relationship with Miriam are some of them. The film makes you laugh when you least expect it and makes you feel all warm and fuzzy the very next minute. Anchored by a brilliant performance by Giamatti, one can sympathize, laugh at, laugh with and even cry for this version of Barney’s life.