Richler did satire and black humour right up until Cocksure. Therefore, he had in his fiction a mordant world view.
So who makes out in such a world by Richler’s lights: those with some decency, more or less true to themselves, who see things for what they are, but who also see what is great and worthwhile—love and human excellence when that latter can be found such as in great art--who reject inauthenticity and phoniness, and are engaging. To be scorned: the up tight, the phonies, the sanctimonious and holier than thou, the arrivistes, the crass and money grubbing, the ideological, the xenophobic and identity enslaved, the essentially cruel and unkind and those unable to see what is great and worthwhile.
Richler long ago wrote a short account of his travels in
Barney for Richler is a deeply flawed character who makes out, sort of. His “Version” isn’t just his falsified account of the death of Boogie, or even just his own iteration of his life. It is, rather, more largely, his version of life itself, life according to how he lives it. With all his raunchy, funny cruelty at the expense of Blair, with all his cruelty and emotional infidelity to Minnie Driver, for all his inattentiveness and selfishness in the face of Miriam’s trying to make a life for herself beyond him—but including him, for all his compromises with the great and worthwhile, the compromises completely captured by Totally Unnecessary Productions, despite his son calling him a “selfish prick,” he is, I argue, in the novel and the movie undoubtedly redeemable and indeed redeemed in Richler’s eyes.
That is evident in Miriam, after being away for a week, resolving that she loves him and wants to continue with him and wants immediately to make love with him until tshtf. And he is redeemed as set out in the very apt words of a
…What really sells it as a story is star Paul Giamatti's boisterous, wide-ranging and seductive performance. As a screen presence, Giamatti has a secret weapon beyond the obvious balding pate, paunch and bugged-out eyes: His voice, a mellifluously elegant instrument, suggests an inner refinement and contradicts what meets the eye. He’s the soul of a poet trapped in the shape of a clown, and to that extent a perfect Barney…
It's also evident in the high quality of his raffish friends, in his selfless generosities such as to Boogie and to Soulange, and in his capacious sensibility, so world-engaging.
There is a Mad Men aspect to the movie. Barney is a version of a sensibility of two generations ago: man the sole provider; man the world weary whiskey drinker and relentless cigar smoker finding truth and sanctuary in his own bonhomie, drinking with the boys, women as accessory to such men, being housewives, raising the children, being there to be nurturing all as against a more modern sensibility of women having the respect of their “partners” in their self fulfillment, of more sensitive, quiche eating, vegan, politically correct men such as Blair, who is both ludicrous and attractive—even if he is a a member of Al-Qaeda
I could go on about this movie, but, perversely, I’ll note what I didn’t like so much:
1. it at times drags;
2. it is often too synoptic, with too much stuff crammed in, although it's wonderful in the way it covers a lifetime of living from, in Barney’s case, his bohemian youth to the onset of his old age;
3. I don’t buy the whole courtship of Miriam, the falling for her, the wooing of her, the getting of her love. I find all that forced and not to be believed, lacking the simulation of life's real rythms. But the movie is wonderful in presenting their marriage over the decades. And I thinkt Rosamund Pike, after my initial concerns over the contrived soul mate attraction and courtship, is excellent as Barney’s long suffering, loving and always lovely wife, aging with subtle beauty, gravity and depth.
4. Wife 2 is way too broad, a caricature counting as attempted emotional theft, trying to steal emotions the movie has no right to. We’re meant to despise her as a crass, stupid, materially obsessed woman and reject her as does Barney. But she's not given a fighting chance in her uni-dimensionality. That’s cheap, facile movie making.
5. I don’t believe the break up with Miriam. After a marriage that long and that complicated, things just don’t turn on such a small, thin dime --one understandable, desperation-driven bout of meaningless sex--from love to separation and divorce. I know the movie sets it up in the courtship by Barney's promise never to cheat on Miriam as her father did on her mother, driving her to death, but I just don’t buy it when it happens. It, too, feetls forced and unbelievable.
6. Finally, maybe most irritating and exasperating, I think the whole scene leading to Boogie’s death too long and wholly unconvincing, resting on a psychologically unpersuasive foundation of events. And I think that Giamatti and Speedman are playing at being drunk and drunks in that scene. I don’t believe in their drunkenness. They can’t, for me, there, transcend their acting, so untypical for the overall terrific acting in the movie.