"Barney's Version" a rewarding adaptation

Sun Sep 12, 2010 8:42pm EDT
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By Michael Rechtshaffen

TORONTO (Hollywood Reporter) - Acclaimed Canadian author Mordecai Richler's last and arguably greatest novel, "Barney's Version," has been transformed into a highly entertaining and arguably the most satisfying Richler screen adaptation to date.

The impeccably cast confessional, with a pitch-perfect Paul Giamatti leading the way, nimbly traverses the four decades in its lead character's eventful life with considerable exuberance, visual flair and, ultimately, grace.

Produced by Robert Lantos, who brought Richler's "Joshua Then and Now" to the big screen in 1985, and assuredly directed by Richard J. Lewis ("Whale Music"), the picture undoubtedly will draw kudos in its home and native land and likely beyond, buoyed by that virtuouso Giamatti performance.

Not since Richard Dreyfuss so capably inhabited the title role in 1974's "The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz" has a Richler lead character (the author died in 2001) been brought to life as effectively as Giamatti's irascible, rumpled Barney Panofsky.

Hard to like but tougher to hate, Panofsky relives his warts-and-all memoirs, otherwise known as "the true story of my wasted life," encompassing several countries and an equal number of wives.

There's his early, bohemian existence in Rome with Mrs. Panofsky No. 1, the free-spirited Clara (Rachelle Lefevre), whom Barney marries when she becomes pregnant.

It ends, and Barney returns to his Montreal home -- Richler's signature stomping grounds -- getting a job at a cheesy TV production company and meeting and soon marrying the Second Mrs. P., a chatty, pampered Jewish princess (amusingly played by Minnie Driver).

To say the union is doomed is an understatement, given that he proceeds to meet the love of his life, the elegant, sophisticated Miriam (a luminous Rosamund Pike), right smack in the middle of his wedding reception.   Continued...