First off, I love much of Mordecai Richler's work. Duddy Kravitz is an incredible book and one of my fav films. I have no problem with the unlovable effed-up flawed heroes he favors. But "Barney" was, to my mind, a mess. First the good: Paul Giamatti is a wonderful actor. Here I think he did a good job but didn't quite sing in the role. He captures the title character's self- loathing, but the role really goes anywhere, nor does he really capture a lot of the pain he inflicts on others in the way that Richard Dreyfuss did with Duddy. I think the character is meant to have a lustiness and earthiness which Giamatti doesn't quite connect with. Of everyone, Dustin Hoffman comes off best as Barney's crass working class Jewish cop dad.
Minnie Driver, another actress I truly love is okay but gives a highly caricatured performance in this film. For a professional woman in the film she never really connects with her character's intelligence and, instead, plays her as a JAP stereotype. Nor is the pain at her being duped ever become terribly real. But to me, the film really crashes with the Rosamund Pike casting and character. I thought she was not only flat in the role but the character's motivations and actions so implausible that it sunk the film. Here she is, a highly educated woman acutely aware of how her father's cheating negatively impacted her mother's life. She meets a guy at his own wedding who starts coming on to her almost immediately. He courts her even though she knows he's married. She agrees to meet him days after he's divorced. He shows up drunk and vomits in the restaurant. How does she react to this? She gets involved with him almost immediately. It's absurd. Nor do I believe for one second that his continued boorish behavior wouldn't send her packing post haste given her own family situation. I thought Pike had several scenes where she's so flat, I truly have no great interest seeing her again (I didn't think she was especially good in Pride and Prejudice either). Scott Speedman as Boogie seems like another miscasting. The character is supposed to be a hometown Montreal Jew and Speedman has none of the crazy recklessness the character which supposedly drives the character. He just looks like a soap opera actor gone to seed.
Then the movie piles on the pathos toward the end. My father had Alzheimer's so this is a highly personal issue to me. And even given that, this rushed section of the film just seemed like audience manipulation instead of a real examination of a failing parent (Another Canadian film 'Away From Her' did such an amazing job with that subject). In the book, Richler evidently uses the Alzheimer's as a framing mechanism and how the disease comments on his life... Barney's VERSION of his life. The film does nothing with that and instead uses the condition as a way of getting sympathy for an altogether unlovable character. A mess. A mess with a few good performances and scenes which could have been much better.