Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Barney's Version -- promises made, promises broken

Director: Richard J. Lewis, 2010. (R) 

Based on Modecai Richler's book of the same name, Barney's Version is a semi-comedic retrospective journey through the life and marriages of Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti), a Jewish scoundrel.

Barney is a hard-drinking, foul-mouthed film, hockey-loving television producer who we meet at the end of his career. Looking back to his younger years in Rome, we see him marry his first wife in a simple and unplanned civil wedding in front of his few artsy friends. When she dies, he moves back to Montreal to take a job for his uncle as a fund-raiser, progressing into TV soaps from there.

At his second wedding, to a rich but loud Jewish woman (Minnie Driver) he and his father (Dustin Hoffman) get drunk. But while drunk, he meets Miriam (Rosamund Pike), a stunning woman from New York who captures his heart. He falls in love at his own wedding, and not to his new wife!

The rest of the film is his pursuit of this love of his life, who though while avoiding being a marriage breaker would eventually become his third wife. Along the way, his ex-cop father gives him marital advice, his best friend shares drugs and dames with him, and his ego gets him deep into trouble. Eventually, his marriage gives out and his memory fades. Divorce and dementia take a bitter toll on this loud but lovable man.

As in most of his movies, Paul Giamatti does a wonderful job in the central role, being in most scenes. He carries the film, giving it a surprising warmth not expected in a movie focused on a decadent character. Dustin Hoffman provides some laughs in his supporting role. And Rosamund Pike is warm and genuine. But the comedy is less than desired and the plot takes longer to come to its conclusion.

Ethically, the main focus is on promises. Barney tells Miriam he would give her everything and anything. He promises his heart to her. Yet he fails her, just as he failed to live up to his earlier wedding promises to two other women. It is in the human heart to break promises. We may sincerely believe we will keep our vows, but the deceit in our heart too often prevents us from following through (Jer. 17:9). We may not be as overt as Barney, but we fail our family and friends just the same.

But there is one whose promises are faithful: Jesus. Paul tells us, "For no matter how many promises God has made, they are 'Yes' in Christ" (2 Cor. 1:20). God always does what he says, and keeps his word. We stand on his word. "And this is what he promised us—eternal life" (1 Jon. 2:25). Indeed, he likens us to his bride in a marriage that he promises will last forever. We can take that one to the bank. He will not fall for someone else on our wedding day!

Copyright ©2012, Martin Baggs

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