How Richard J. Lewis’ indie film went from a four screen opening weekend, to a usually pitifully programmed Cineworld in Milton Keynes, is just one of the small marvels of cinema; but a welcome one at that. The adaptation of Mordecai Richler’s novel is not shy of big names either, with Dustin Hoffman, Minnie Driver and Rosamund Pike taking on more than considerable roles. But it is Paul Giamatti who proves to be the elixir to what is an otherwise unattractive package to your average mainstream audience – a Canadian Jewish comedy about life and death
Since his career-defining turn in Sideways, Giamatti has appeared on the radar of many cinemagoers. There were some hits (Cinderella Man) and some misses (Fred Claus) but it would seem that Giamatti’s persistency has paid off. He has not only won a Golden Globe this year, but now holds a blockbusting name capable of commanding multiplex screenings for less blockbusting titles.
The film itself is an enjoyable comedy which becomes light on the laughs midway through, in place of a rather downbeat meditation on life. The UK promotion focused on Barney (Giamatti) meeting the woman of his dreams (Pike) at his second wedding, which was in fact just a small part of the film’s ultimately tedious puzzle. Version would, however, lend itself perfectly to a drinking game which winds up with a stomach pumping. At times it felt like Giamatti was simply going through the motions, playing a similarly paunched and troubled man to his superior Miles Ramond (Sideways). And much like Miles, if not more, Barney enjoys his booze. Giamatti’s career has become defined by inhebriation, including his lesser celebrated but equally brilliant roles in American Splendour and The Hawk is Dying. Again, like much of his filmography, Giamatti acts his heart out in a film which isn’t as good as he is. His near-perfect renditions of mid-life crisis’s are wasted on an actor who, given the freedom, could turn his hand to much more. So could Barney be Giamatti’s last loveable drunk? Working with a finely crafted script and talented director, Giamatti could find himself on the cusp of acting royalty. He may just have to put the drink down first.