Based on Mordecai Richler's prize-winning comic novel, his last and, arguably, best, BARNEY'S VERSION is the warm, wise, and witty story of Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti), a seemingly ordinary man who lives an extraordinary life. A candid confessional, told (as its title implies) entirely from Barney's point of view, the film spans four decades and two continents, taking us through the many highs, and a few too many lows, of our hero's long and colorful life. The reason that Barney must tell his story now - or, at least his version of it - is that his sworn enemy has just published a tell-all book that dredges up the more compromising chapters of Barney's past: the many, often murky entrepreneurial schemes that lead to his success the three marriages, all of them terminated and, most problematically, the mysterious, as-yet-unsolved disappearance of Barneys best friend, Boogie, a possible murder for which Barney remains the prime suspect. Since his memory sometimes fails him, and because he has the unfortunate habit of getting blind drunk at pivotal moments, Barney leads us on this somewhat unsteady walk down memory lane, not only to explain his life to others, but also to explain it to himself.
Mostly, we learn about Barney by witnessing his three marriages, each representing, like the rings of a circus, different .acts. of his life. There is his first wife, Clara (Rachelle Lefevre), a flame-haired, flagrantly unfaithful free spirit with whom Barney briefly lives la vie de Boheme in Rome. Then, after returning home to Montreal, Barney marries the .Second Mrs. P.,. (Minnie Driver), a wealthy Jewish Princess who shops and talks incessantly, barely noticing that Barney is not listening. It is at their lavish wedding that Barney meets, and starts pursuing, Miriam (Rosamund Pike), the woman who will become his third wife, the mother of his two children, and the love of his life. Throughout their life together Barney is believed by many - including, 4 at times, himself - to have murdered Boogie (Scott Speedman), the friend whom he both adores and envies, who simply vanishes one day, along with Barneys youth.
In telling us, as he calls it, .the true story of my wasted life,. Barney is honest to a fault, owning up to every one of his flaws and failings with a self-lacerating wit that positively dares us not to like him. However, its impossible not to forgive someone as smart, funny, and self-aware as Barney. Not only does he turn out to be an unrepentant romantic man, as his lifelong devotion to Miriam attests, he is also capable of all kinds of sneaky acts of gallantry, generosity, and goodness when we and he least expect it. Far from .wasted,. his is a gloriously full life, played out on a grand scale. And, at the center of his story stands an unlikely, but unforgettable, hero--Barney Panofsky.