A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this Paul Giamatti dramedy based on the novel by Mordecai Richler is heavy on strong language (including "f--k" and "s--t") and sexual innuendo and situations (including a scene of a topless woman). There's also some violence (a gun is brandished, and there's lots of arguing), as well as almost constant drinking and smoking, and one character is an addict. Teens may not be sucked in by the story of a middle-aged ne'er-do-well anyway.
What's the story?
Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti) begins his adult life by taking a soulless but successful job in television and marrying his pregnant, no-good girlfriend. It ends in disaster. Later, he agrees to marry a second woman (Minnie Driver), but on his wedding night, he falls instantly and helplessly in love with a third woman, Miriam (Rosamund Pike), and starts pursuing her. Years later, he runs into competition for Miriam's affections in the form of gentle Blair (Bruce Greenwood). All the while, Barney must deal with the mysterious, violent disappearance of his best friend, "Boogie" (Scott Speedman); with the oddball advice of his loving, good-hearted father (Dustin Hoffman); and with the onset of Alzheimer's disease.
Is it any good?
It's an uneven film, but the terrific cast makes it well worth watching. Mordecai Richler's 1997 novel Barney's Version -- which BARNEY'S VERSION is based on -- plays with the idea of the "unreliable narrator." Barney tells his story after the onset of Alzheimer's disease, and then his notes are re-edited by his son, so it's hard to know what's 100% accurate. It's an interesting approach, so it's unfortunate that the movie doesn't embrace it, instead using the Alzheimer's mostly as a sympathy-getting plot device.
While some of the characters are well-drawn and others are thin, the cast as a whole is game, and the actors -- notably Giamatti, Hoffman, and Driver -- shine in their roles. (Giamatti's make-up is also especially good, and he's believable at every age.) While the movie has some strong laughs, especially at the beginning, director Richard J. Lewis has a little trouble balancing the film's inherent comedy and drama. He also lets the movie run too long, which undermines the goodwill the characters have drummed up.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether Barney is a strong or likeable character. What does he do to earn viewers' interest or admiration? What does he do wrong throughout his life? Does he learn anything? Do his mistakes make him more or less appealing?
Why do you think Barney and all his friends drink so much? What consequences does it have in their movie lives? What consequences might it have in real life?
Barney meets many women during his life. How does he know that Miriam is the one that he's truly in love with? What does he do to deserve her love?