15 February, 2011

The Duchess Loved . . .

Barney's Version

What can be said about "Barney's Version"?  That it was the Duchess's favorite movie of 2010?  That it is, at turns, terrifying, heartbreaking, uplifting, and hilarious?  That one must watch it, with both a glass of wine and a box of Puffs?  All of the above.

Barney and his father, Izzy Panofsky (a charming Dustin Hoffman)

O.K., O.K., so perhaps it weighs a tad heavy on the sentimentality scale, it's a bit treacly, to borrow from the Marquis.  But she loved it anyway.  Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti) is not an especially lucky fellow who enjoys some success as a television producer (at his company Totally Useless Productions).  The film opens when Barney is an older man, and shows him relating gruffly but lovingly with his now-adult daughter, and also shows some harassing telephonic interludes with a man whom the viewers can interpret to be Barney's ex-wife's new husband.  We don't know which wife yet.

Flanked by Boogie (Scott Speedman) and Clara (Rachelle Lefevre)

That's because Barney, not unlike many people we know, has been subjected to (or subjected himself to) the rigmarole of multiple marriages.  His first, a brief affair with a knocked-up Jewish hippie Clara in Rome in the 1970s ends in poetic disaster after Barney learns that he was not, in fact, the father of her unborn child.  Fast forward to his return to his native Montreal, where Barney (buttressed in life by his friendship with the louche Boogie (played by Scott Speedman) and his working class father, Izzy (Dustin Hoffman) takes up with the wealthy, Masters-degreed second Mrs. P. (a great Minnie Driver), the only daughter of a haughty and well-to-do couple.  They marry . . .

The second Mrs. P, on the phone to her mother during her honeymoon

and with her tourist's map

but of course, at their wedding Barney falls "heels over head" for a woman he meets there named Miriam Grant (radiant Rosamund Pike).  This fou de coudre (along with a few other marital mishaps) entices Barney, eventually, to leave the second Mrs. P and marry Miriam, with whom he has a long, loving, and cherished marriage. 

Yes, tears were shed

But, nothing gold can stay, as they say, and Barney and Miriam unsurprisingly cannot (either through their own actions or on the whims of those cruel machines, fate and time) maintain the zenith of their wedded bliss forever.  Things fall apart, and that includes human beings.  It includes Barney, most certainly, and as he enters into his sunset years, we see the wreckage that that destruction wrought. 

The New York Times didn't particularly like this movie, teasing that it seemed as though "it were not Barney’s version of the story at all, but rather the wedding planner’s."  The Duchess must disagree.  What if Barney's version and the wedding planner's were the same?  What if it were Barney's desired version of his life to live fully, love often (and completely), and never give up on his heart's wants?  Is it incredible to conceive that perhaps Barney too wanted romance, tenderness, security, and of course love -- to have his wedding cake (with icing) and to eat it too? 

Because the Duchess is not inclined to cynicism these days she'll pass on the treacle and have a piece of that cake. 

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