Barney’s Version

Watching Paul Giamatti drink and grump his way around Richard J. Lewis‘s slice of grown-up film making Barney’s Version one cannot help but feel that we have been here before with Giamatti seeming to have become independent Hollywood’s go to guy when they want a drinking, smoking and slightly loser shaped men.

It was 2004’s slightly brilliant Sideways, directed by the hit and miss Alexander Payne, in which the grumpy looking Giamatti’s made the type his own although the year before Berman & Pulcini‘s ode to Harvey Peker American Splendor saw the portly actor put in perhaps his best performance as the curmudgeonly comic book great who crashes into a year of cancer.

The less said about M. Night Shyamalan‘s The Lady in The Water the better and like the director Giamatti’s chance of sealing a place in the Hollywood mainstream seems to have ended with that 2006 movie.

Giamatti’s Barney is a tragic character and – not unconnectedly – spends thirty years of the film working on television which seems to be a common connection for moviemakers and the paths of celluloid are paved with people who work on the big screen talking about just how atrocious those on the small screen are.

Sidney Lumet‘s Network is a post-Nam explosion of cynicism sets television as the villain in 1976, Martin Scorsese‘s career best film 1983’s King of Comedy sees Jerry Lewis all but embalmed by his service to the idiot box. “Go to the cinema,” Hollywood loves to tell you, “Because TV is full of those people.”

Perhaps this is best seen in Paul Thomas Anderson‘s 1999 epic Magnolia in which not one but two TV touchstones have their small screen corruptions manifested as fatal cancers and the movie’s dénouement of falling frogs has as much to do with the invasive attack of the multitude of channels as the Exodus 8:2.

If TV, or so it seems, makes you into a sort of grumpy, misanthropic, alcoholic the likes of which Paul Giamatti plays so well when it is probably no surprise he never gets offered mainstream work.


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