Film & TV

Mordecai Richler Gets a Downgrade in "Barney's Version"

Barney's Version misses every opportunity for raucous, picaresque fun that the book throws its way while squandering a wealth of transatlantic performing talent led by Paul Giamatti. Richler was a gleeful provocateur who wrote in funny, excoriating, entertainingly hectic prose and had passion to burn. Giamatti mugs away gamely as the titular unhero, a Montreal producer of schlock television whom we meet adjusting poorly to geezer status and reflecting, with insufficient Richleresque bile and many artless flashbacks, on his magnificently botched life. Regrets, Barney's had a few, leading with the loss of his adored third wife, Miriam (a coolly intelligent Rosamund Pike), and his ambiguous role in the death of a boozy literary mentor (Scott Speedman). Somnolently paced and emotionally constricted, Barney's Version never finds a rhythm or a theme to call its own. Worse yet, it strips the novel of its rich sense of place and so of Richler's profane love for his beloved, bitterly divided Quebec.