There are a lot of movies that have trouble finding an audience because the people who create the trailers decide the movie is about one thing, while it's actually about something else. Barney's Version had trouble with this, in part because the title doesn't really describe much of what the movie is about and then the trailer made it look like it was about something a little different. So here's what I think it was about (some spoilers, but mostly it'll make it easier to decide to see it, since you REALLY should):
Paul Giamatti is pretty unlucky in love. In the 1970s he's living in Rome, being a "patron" of the arts only because he's the only one among his artsy friends who actually has a job. He's knocked up one of these friends (Rachel Lefevre) and agreed to marry her. She's a bit of a liar, and the marriage doesn't end well, but it ends relatively quickly. So Barney heads back to the States. He's set up with the daughter of a colleague (also Jewish - Minnie Driver) and eventually it makes sense for them to marry, much to the dismay of his working class dad (Dustin Hoffman). At the wedding reception, Barney meets Miriam (Rosamund Pike) and falls completely in love. She totally denies him, and goes back to NYC. Barney stays married until he finds his alcoholic-in-recovery best friend Boogie (Scott Speedman) in bed with his wife. This finally allows Barney to pursue Miriam. They eventually marry and have kids and a wonderfully happy life.
This whole bit is told in flashback. Meanwhile, Barney is talking on and off to an "ex-wife", but we don't know which wife he now refers to as his ex. So we're waiting until flashbacks meet real time. The other big plot point that is supposed to be the main driver of the film is that Barney was once accused of murder and the cops think he got away with it. He's telling his own "version" of what happened.
We slowly find out who is dead, whether or not Barney might have done it and what Barney's life eventually became. It's an interesting mixture of romantic comedy (if somewhat sad, but wonderfully romantic) and murder mystery. However, the mystery isn't all that interesting and is wrapped up rather ridiculously at the very end. That could have been left almost out of the story with it being more of a side note rather than the force behind the title of the film. It kind of felt a little rough around the edges - the feeling that comes to mind is like when you've shuffled cards and can't quite get them back into an organized deck. All the good cards are there, they're even in the right order, it's just not smooth along the sides.
Paul Giamatti totally deserved his Golden Globe award - he does a great job playing Barney, a moderately successful business person who can't quite make his life work for a while. But when he finally meets the love of his life, it starts to make sense. The sweetness and earnest way he shows he's in love with Miriam is heart warming and really believable. Yes, it's love at first site, but he doesn't ruin the life he's committed to by trying to make it work. He holds on to his love (sending her flowers every week) but waits for fate to bring them together eventually. I really really liked this movie. 4.5 of 5 stars/lambs
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