Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti) is a television producer with a dubious lifestyle and ethics. When an expose is published about some of his activities, it is time for Barney to tell his story through the milestones of his three marriages. The first is with the sexually free-spirited Clara (Rachelle Lefevre); the second is with Mrs P (Minnie Driver) the daughter of a rich Jewish man and the third is Miriam (Rosamund Pike), the mother of his two children (Zack Kifell, Simone Richler) and the love of his life.
Review by Louise Keller:
Leonard Cohen's I'm Your Man epitomises the essence of this haunting film that tugs us through every emotion known to man. Cohen's expressive, gravel-infused voice is as rough, tough and colourful as the film's protagonist, Barney Panofsky, superbly portrayed by Paul Giamatti. Like the circus that carries his name, Barney is larger than life and one thing is for sure - there is nothing dull about him. Based on Mordecai Richler's acclaimed novel, it's a portrait of a flawed man whose life hits glorious highs and lows that are often self-inflicted. It's a bit of a roller coaster ride and we are never sure where it is going to lead as we watch in fascination, sometimes in disapproval, sometimes in envy, before being totally sucked in to the upside down life of a man with the tenacity to never give up.
It is through Barney's three marriages that we get to know him, although it is not until he spies Miriam (Rosamund Pike, exquisite), a beautiful girl wearing a turquoise dress and a serene expression that he knows what he wants. The fact that this moment comes at his rambunctious Jewish wedding to his second wife (Minnie Driver in one of her best roles) is no deterrent to the hustler-cum-TV producer whose company bears the name Totally Unnecessary Productions. Much that surrounds Barney could be termed Totally Unnecessary - like his best friend Boogie (Scott Speedman), who carries a cocaine habit and no guilt. Sobriety and regret are anxiously waiting up for you, Miriam tells Barney: she has a habit of being right. Of course Miriam is far too good for Barney - and he knows it, but he is prepared to wait for her - and he is rewarded.
Told in varying degrees of flashback, the story begins with a close up of Barney's props for life: a glass of Macallan single malt whisky and a Monte Cristo cigar. With the publication of a controversial tell-all book about his exploits, it is Barney's turn to tell 'his version'. We flit back to Rome in 1974, where Barney makes an honest woman out of a pregnant, flighty redhead who makes a better conversation piece, than a wife. It ends badly. His second wedding is in his hometown of Montreal and by now, we have met Barney's irrepressible dad (Dustin Hoffman, wonderful), whose gems of paternal wisdom include descriptions of marriage like pushing an avocado through a cheese grater.
While Miriam embodies everything that is beautiful and good (she even has a solution for onion tears), Barney's life is like that cheese grater - surrounding him is controversy, scandal and angst. When the handsome, eloquent vegan Blair (Bruce Greenwood) rescues Barney from a boating mishap, like us, he can see that Blair fits the gentlemanly mould that he may aspire to but is not natural to him.
There are so many wonderful moments in this tumultuous film that leaves us with an unexpected tone. Director Richard J. Lewis handles the material with such sensitivity, offering us the gift of an unexpected emotional tour de force.
Published first in the Sun-Herald
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Whatever sardonic Jewish humour was evident in Mordecai Richler's novel has been largely lost in the adaptation, although some of the world weary mood lingers well. Barney (Paul Giamatti) makes cheap and shoddy TV series and to his credit, he doesn't try and hide the fact; indeed, his rather basic, single storey suburban studio boldly declares its name, Totally Unnecessary Productions on the edifice. If he has no illusions about his work, he has a few about himself, most notably that he is a great guy, which we discover would be an overstatement if he actually said it out loud.
This is one of the key flaws in the film: Barney is not likeable or admirable, or charismatic or charming or clever at anything. How he manages to marry not one but three women (two of them striking and smart) is therefore implausible. The fact that Giamatti - a wonderful chameleon of an actor that he is - simply looks wrong in the role adds fuel to our fire of discontent.
We enter the story on the publication of a book that is supposedly an expose of Barney's role in a death, and then switch to his p.o.v. for the telling of his version of his life. The device is clumsily used so it is more confusing than useful. The policeman who writes it was once a colleague of Barney's father (Dustin Hoffman) in a cheap device that is portrayed so badly as to further alienate us. Even his choice of 12 year old The Macallan as his favourite tipple, the Rolls Royce of whisky, isn't enough to endear himself to us (even fellow Macallan drinkers).
But there are some pluses, including two great Leonard Cohen songs beautifully used, but most notably yet another shining performance by Rosamund Pike as Miriam, who Barney truly loves and pursues at great length. That story element could have been extracted to make a workable romantic comedy for grown ups, but the book is not about that and the film follows the book, right to the bitter end. Well, not bitter, but certainly not uplifting.
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BARNEY'S VERSION (M)
(Canada, Italy, 2010)
CAST: Paul Giamatti, Rosamund Pike, Dustin Hoffman, Minnie Driver, Mark Addy, Scott Speedman
PRODUCER: Robert Lantos
DIRECTOR: Richard J. Lewis
SCRIPT: Michael Konyves (Novel by Mordecai Richler)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Guy Dufaux
EDITOR: Susan Shipton
MUSIC: Pasquale Catalano
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Claude Paré
RUNNING TIME: 131 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 24, 2011
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