This picaresque character-driven dramedy doesn't rely on conventional plotting vividly committed to a source novel spanning nearly three decades in the life of the eponymous fully-lived figure.
Barney's Version stars Paul Giamatti, Rosamund Pike, Dustin Hoffman and Minnie Driver and discovers its elongated way as a confessional, with dollops of self-lacerating wit.
Giamatti's hardly sympathetic, but often surprising Barney Panofsky has a mesmerizing honesty about him which led to quite an intriguing life, although perhaps not that easily discernible.
In an unchronlogical recollection, quite the bohemian existence Barney had in the 1970s in Rome with first, free-spirited, later ill-fated missus Clara (Rachelle Lefevre) with fiery red hair.
His next marriage back home in Montreal to an opulent vulgarian of a Jewish princess (Driver, solid in the TV-like drama Conviction opposite Hilary Swank) didn't last long at all as he finds his way as a television producer. Barney happened to meet his third one, a New York radio host, Miriam (Pike), at the swank reception of the previous one.
Along the way, there's Barney's sweet, yet occasionally uncouth dad (Hoffman of Little Fockers), bright children (Jake Hoffman and Anna Hopkins), as well as a very caring neighbor (Bruce Greenwood of Mao's Last Dancer). As his senility manifest his reflection, an older Barney is hampered by a dogged detective (Mark Addy of A Knight's Tale) out to show that he was behind the death of his best friend, Boogey, a dissolute Scott Speedman, years earlier.
Assembling all the ups and downs around trust and friendship is something that adapting scribe Michael Konyves awkwardly provides when it comes to continuity and focus. There is enough for director Richard J. Lewis in it to allow for a mostly unsentimental nostalgia to the proceedings where the actors, especially Giamatti who, maybe at times, channels a bit of his soul-searcher from the acclaimed, endearing Sideways.
Of course with an event-filled arc, the actor of lesser known art house fare like Cold Souls knows out to draw out emotion from a usually lighter, more positive mood, even with life's ebbs constantly encroaching on his life. What arguably plays out like a Jewish morality tale straightforwardly hones on the lasting nature of family ties with enough nuance and intimations to make the character interactions resonate even if it's known how they turn out. Most notably the ones between an often irascible and impulsive Barney and his dad and Miriam, with gamey, luminous turns by Hoffman and Pike (Made In Dagenham and An Education), respectively.
If this imperfect, yet well-observed Version betrays its rich antecedent at times, being with someone like an often boorish Barney can be a funny, touching experience as things start to slip away. Perhaps an approach fitted to ordinary life is more problematic and less haunting when it comes to lingering of scenes and their segueing, but, this time, contemplative management still has more emotional and thematic resonance than expected.