Barney's Version

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Barney's Version Movie Poster Image
Mature dramedy is well acted but may not interest teens.
  • R
  • 2011
  • 132 minutes

Parents say

age 16+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

age 2+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Ultimately, not much is learned or accomplished here. Characters behave terribly -- but also warmly from time to time; it's messy, but so is life.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Barney behaves badly and/or makes mistakes throughout the film, and he never seems to learn from any of them, although he does generally pay a price for his behavior. He's successful in business and also acts bravely and lovingly from time to time, but overall, his general character could be summed up as someone you don't want your kids to be like.


Plenty of shouting and arguing. A gun is pulled in one scene, though the resulting violence occurs off-screen, with no blood shown.


Viewers see two sex acts in progress and one about to occur, but true nudity is limited to one scene with a topless woman and some nude paintings. Frequent sex talk and sexual innuendo. The main character is married to three women during the course of the movie and is said to have had sex with all of them, as well as with a fourth woman.


Strong, frequent swearing includes "f--k," "s--t," "c--ksucker," "prick," "son of a bitch," "t-ts," "schtupping," "schmuck," "p---y," "vagina," "a--hole," "hell," and "Jesus Christ" (used as an exclamation).

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters drink almost constantly, often to the point of drunkenness. The hero goes to a bar to watch hockey and get drunk; he also drinks in restaurants and at home. He also smokes cigars almost constantly. A secondary character is shown to be an addict, and drugs such as "horse" (heroin), opium, and hash are mentioned.

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byslow man July 16, 2011

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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?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dramas and comedies

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