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AFF Day 8: Barney’s Version/Do It Again

Mordecai Richler's novel arrives on screen, Boston journo attempts Kinks reunion with mixed results

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I’ve seen a few movies I’ve really enjoyed at this, the 30th edition of the AFF, but with a couple of days left I don’t think I’m going to find anything to compare to Barney’s Version. The adaptation of the Mordecai Richler novel, directed by Richard J. Lewis is a delight.

In Barney Panofsky, Paul Giamatti finds his quintessential character. We meet the shlubby, curmudgeonly Montreal television producer in relative old age (with old-man makeup not quite working, but whatever). He’s drinking heavily, divorced and reminiscing. Turns out in the ‘70s he lived the wild, bohemian life in Rome, where he knocked up a young woman of his acquaintance (Rachelle Lefevre) and felt obligated to marry her, but abandoned her when the baby was stillborn and turned out not to be his. Later, in Montreal, one of his old literary buddies Boogie (Scott Speedman, convincingly charismatic) vanishes during a drunken binge following marital infidelity and Barney is blamed for his murder. At that point, Barney has already remarried, to a woman he doesn’t love (Minnie Driver, convincingly nutty) and has fallen in love with yet another, Miriam (Rosamund Pike, lovely), about which Barney’s father, a retired cop (Dustin Hoffman) offers coarse and not-so-helpful advice.

As we jump back and forth in time, its impossible to not grow attached to Barney, even as you cringe at his bad decisions. We don’t really know what happens with Boogie until late in the running... maybe Barney did kill him, if accidentally. But Barney’s heart is full and huge. If we had any doubt, his single-minded pursuit of Miriam is wonderful, a sweet and irresistible love that redeems his faults. And a few scenes in the third act are just concentrated heartbreak, as regret and illness take hold.

The picture isn’t perfect. Rome is given a bit of a short shrift, disappointingly, and there are a few narrative lulls. Barney’s appeal to women is a little bit of a mystery, too, given his bad habits and crustiness. But as we assemble him from different stages in his life, we fall in love with him too, so maybe it’s easier to understand. I hope future biopic directors see this film... if they can make actual people as interesting as Barney, I’d enjoy the genre a whole lot more.

Barney’s Version plays Friday, 7pm at the Oxford.

I caught up late to a movie that showed on Monday, Do It Again. Geoff Edgers is a music critic at the Boston Globe. He comes across from the opening credits as a hardheaded, obnoxious, but friendly character. In other words, just the kind of guy who would get caught up in a quixotic endeavour and maybe actually make it happen, like reuniting legendary British rock band The Kinks. Good for him, I say. But he’s also the producer of this doc, so he puts himself right in the middle of it, overestimating how interesting he is. He’s also a journalist worried about his financial future---we see him having to suffer through his six-figure salaried day job in the newspaper trenches, his livelihood in peril. (Times are tough all over, you putz. What, are we supposed to sympathize?) Edgers has director Robert Patton-Spruill shoot him and his wife in his home as he puts this project together, and gets everyone he knows to expound on his character and his passion for this rock band that split in acrimony many years ago.

Still, with his enthusiasm and persistence he manages to get some big names on camera---Clive Davis, Paul Weller, Sting, Zooey Deschanel, even Dave Davies. And that’s cool... everyone loves The Kinks and many can talk about the band with authority. Oh, and Edgers also asks all the musicians he meets to play a Kinks song with him. Goofy, goofy idea. “It’s naff mate. It’s fuckin’ rubbish,” as Weller says. Sting, of all people, is a little more open to it.

I won’t spoil it for you whether he succeeds in his grand quest, but still, the meat of it is his effort to do the thing, not the thing. And I guess we’re supposed to be fascinated, but I was reminded of nothing more than the very uncomfortable documentary My Date With Drew, where Brian Herzlinger stalked Drew Barrymore until she went on a date with him.

Geoff, I love lots and lots of bands too. For instance, Kate Bush, who I’d love to see play live, which she never does. But if I ever tried to get her on stage somehow through my passion for her music, I wouldn’t make a documentary about my efforts and expect people to pay to see it. Take yourself out of the mix and you might really have had something here.

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