“I suppose the thing that was useful for me—was the sense of him seeming like an outsider, a kind of observer, a guy who can’t participate—he’s shut out from things. That sort of notion can be ascribed to Jewishness, I suppose. Other than that, it was just great fun to be a Jew.” - actor Paul Giamatti
In a year of film strong on Jewish stars but light on Jewish content, “Barney’s Version” comes along to change all that.
Based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Canadian Jewish author Mordecai Richler, “Barney’s Version” is an epic tale of one man’s life, from his youthful gallivanting in Rome to the romances and relationships that define his adulthood. That man is Barney Panovsky, played brilliantly by Paul Giamatti (nominated for a Golden Globe for this performance), who transforms a curmudgeonly, ordinary Jew into someone “eminently lovable,” as Giamatti’s co-star Rosamund Pike put it. Pike, of course, plays Barney’s great love—his third wife, Miriam Grant, and their romance is the central thread of the film. “Barney’s Version” is, after all, a love story, the likes of which Hollywood is assiduously avoiding these days, if not for its simplicity and smarts, then for the centrality of its storytelling. And the actors who star in the film, which also include Dustin Hoffman, Minnie Drive and Scott Speedman, are a testament to the fact that the film offers some richly compelling characters.
Last week, I had the privilege of interviewing the cast and creators of the film during a Q-and-A at the Museum of Tolerance. Stars Paul Giamatti and Rosamund Pike, director Richard Lewis and producer Robert Lantos were all on hand to discuss what makes Barney Panovsky Jewish, why Paul Giamatti should be counted a member of the tribe and the one thing that could end a romance that “transcends the grave”.
Note: The Jewish Journal is sponsoring an additional screening of “Barney’s Version” this Thursday January 13 at 7:30 p.m. at Laemmle Music Hall in Beverly Hills. Jewish Journal Arts and Entertainment Editor Naomi Pfefferman will moderate a Q&A with director Richard Lewis and producer Robert Lantos following the screening. To RSVP, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.