The author of the book, Mordecai Richler, wrote another book called The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, from which an excellent little movie was made. But sometimes a movie has a lot of interesting parts, and they just don’t all come together for an interesting story. I don’t demand linear storytelling, nor that there be a specific point the writer is trying to make, but it helps, and it’s not here.
Paul Giamatti is Barney, and we see a great deal of his life here, mostly having to do with his marriages. He just can’t seem to stop himself from fucking up. He marries his first wife because she’s pregnant, and it turns out the baby belongs to a friend of his. She miscarries, and then kills herself. On to number two, Minnie Driver, who is a Jewish Canadian Princess, and you know from the first dinner with her parents and Barney’s father, Dustin Hoffman, this it’s going to be another disaster. But who could have guessed just how soon? At the reception, the fucking wedding reception, he spies the girl who he is instantly convinced will be the love of his life. He relentlessly pursues her (can you say stalker?) and finally wins her over.
And he’s right. He loves her eternally. They have twenty good years—though she must have had the patience of a saint—before he finally and irrevocably fucks up again, for stupid reasons. And somewhere in there he either accidentally shoots and kills his best friend after catching him in bed with Minnie … or doesn’t. A cop—no Javert, but in the same ballpark—is convinced Barney killed him, and even goes so far as to publish a book naming him as the killer. But we see hardly anything of this until, much later, Barney is vindicated. To wrap it all up, Barney is afflicted with Alzheimer’s and spends his twilight days drooling.
And who cares? Not me. Barney has not a single redeeming trait. The most difficult thing to swallow was that any of these lovely women would fuck, much less marry, this pathetic little schmuck. He wasn’t even worth hating. Dislike and pity was the best I could do.
The pleasures of this movie, and there are a few, are in the acting. It won a slew of Genies (the Canadian Oscar: I was nominated for one, to give you a clue as to what the competition is like in a typical Canadian cinematic year), and Giamatti, Driver, and Hoffman won. Rosamund Pike, as the third wife, in a much less flashy role, was nominated. I’m sure some people will enjoy this not only for the acting, but also the story. For me, it was just the acting.