Written by Stanley Greenberg Friday, 21 January 2011 00:00
About 10 years ago, my son Gregg told me about a book by Mordecai Richler, the Montreal-Canadian author, that I should read. It was about a Montreal, Jewish curmudgeon (like me) who was a fictionalized antihero in the novel. I read the book and it was all I expected. Great!
The hero, Barney Panofsky, is setting the world straight on his own version of his life. Barney was married three times, and his humorous depictions of each wife were more than hilarious. Barney is a regular guy and a fanatical hockey fan (very Canadian) who roots for the Montreal Canadiens. He is a cigar-smoking whiskey drinker and he abhors phony people. Barney is not an easy guy to get along with, but his criticisms of acquaintances are right on target.
I recommended the novel to my writers’ group, and some people loved it. One woman cried out that it was anti-semitic. I countered by saying that “Not all Jews are lovable!” but it is not a bigoted portrayal of a group, but the story of a brilliant curmudgeon. This is an in-depth view of Canadian Jewish customs and mores.
When the movie Barney’s Version came out, Lorraine (my beautiful wife) and I rushed to see it at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema. We took an 8:47 a.m. train out of Hicksville on a frigid Martin Luther King Jr. Day morning to make an 11:15 a.m. show.
The night before, Paul Giamatti had won the Golden Globe for Best Actor of the Year. After seeing the movie, it was evident that this was a starring-award role. Barney Panofsky was not an easygoing guy. He was tough on everbody around him, especially his three varied wives.
The film is not for the faint of heart. Barney is a rogue and a roué who satisfies himself before he thinks of others. This is definitely a Jewish-oriented movie. It is anything but kind and gentle. It is a hard look at a hard guy. Very realistic, with no punches pulled. Dustin Hoffman is terrific as Barney’s policeman dad.
See it, you will wind up loving Barney Panofsky.