Canadian producer Robert Lantos was smart to world premiere the long-gestating Barney’s Version at the Venice Film Festival instead of home-town Toronto; the book sold over over 700,000 copies in Italy, and won Venice’s Golden Lion Cub award (voted by high school students). Lantos even moved the Paris section of the book to Italy.
Several early reviews for Barney’s Version are in and they’re largely positive. Review links are below.
The movie is based on Canadian author Mordecai Richler’s literary opus and stars Paul Giamatti as Barney Panofsky, a rumpled low-level TV producer who burns through three different marriages to Rosamund Pike, Minnie Driver and Rachelle Lefevre, who all attended Sony Pictures Classics’ packed annual dinner Saturday night. (The company has ten films at TIFF.) Richard J. Lewis directed the movie, which also stars Dustin Hoffman as Barney’s pragmatic, elderly father. SPC acquired Barney’s Version just before the fest; they plan to give it a one-week Oscar qualifying run before opening wider in January.Barney’s road to the screen was ten years long. At the beginning, Lantos met Richler over cigars and booze, but the meetings led to little as the lively novelist’s first script was overwrought. Michael Koneyves penned the final draft. Hoffman swore he wouldn’t appear in the film: he told Lantos, “I want to be really clear. I’m not going to make this movie.” Canadian weekly Maclean’s reports that Hoffman wanted to play Barney himself. Lantos had to tell the septuagenarian that Barney is supposed to be in his thirties.
“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.”
Screen Daily agrees:
“If it finally wins us round, it’s also thanks to a nuanced performance by Paul Giamatti, who keeps us teetering between sympathy and repulsion for Barney the Montreal Jewish mensch, marital philanderer, foul-mouthed social liability, hard drinker, self-hater, low-grade TV producer and possible murderer, through four decades of his messily authentic life. Dustin Hoffman also puts in one of his tastiest performances in years as Barney’s peppy, irreverent policeman father.”
Variety praises Giamatti, but not the film:
“The dizzying comic energy and intellectual vigor of Mordecai Richler’s 1997 satire have largely been drained from director Richard J. Lewis’ agreeable but inevitably lesser version of “Barney’s Version.” Absent the novel’s wildly entertaining digressions and chronological acrobatics, the strange, decades-spanning tale of Barney Panofsky — thrice-married Montreal Jew, hack TV producer and suspected killer — emerges onscreen as a middle-tier marriage drama distinguished by an excellent Paul Giamatti in a familiar curmudgeon role. Acquired by Sony Classics before its Venice and Toronto bows, the Canadian-Italian production faces an uphill battle connecting with smart, literate audiences.”