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Barney's Version: movie review

In a lively adaptation of Mordecai Richler's book 'Barney's Version,' Paul Giamatti plays an incorrigible scamp who falls for the love of his life at his own wedding – among other escapades.

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The late Canadian novelist Mordecai Richler was so marvelously fecund that adapting one of his novels is almost tantamount to adapting Dickens. His books have so much character and incident that the necessary pruning for the screen is inevitably a diminishment.

And yet, what survives is often rich enough to warrant, however futile, the attempt. "The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz," which Richler himself adapted, is still the most extraordinary showcase ever mounted for Richard Dreyfuss's hyperkinetic talents.

"Barney's Version," based on Richler's 1997 novel, and starring Paul Giamatti in a shleppy-peppy role that is almost too comfortable for him, dispenses with that book's first-person approach, and so it seems somewhat flavorless. What's missing is not merely the narrator's voice, but an entire climate of feeling, a way of seeing, that poured through that voice.

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We are left with a patchwork of sequences that often miss. Still, there's something to see. Giamatti's Barney Panofsky is an incorrigible scamp whose bohemian days in Rome (it was Paris in the novel) lead to a career in his native Montreal as a hack TV producer. Along the way he acquires a string of wives. The Second Mrs. P, as she is known, is played by Minnie Driver in full, shrill, Jewish-princess mode. If she had been made more sympathetic, the film would have traded easy laughs for a deeper rue when Barney, at their wedding, falls for one of the guests, Rosamund Pike's imperially pretty Miriam (eventual Wife No. 3).

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