Paul Giamatti typically has a strong sense of picking roles that suit his...look. These roles rarely seem to include a romantic leading man, and yet, Giamatti has managed to find his most endearing, and even sexually appealing, character to date in Richard J. Lewis' Barney's Version, based on the novel by Mordecai Richler (why yes, he is Jewish!).
We begin our story of love, loss, and desperation in Barney's sixties: Smoking a cigar, drinking some old man type liquor, and pining over photos of his now ex-wife, Miriam (Rosamund Pike). Semi-drunk, Barney calls Miriam's current husband, Blair (the ever-present Bruce Greenwood), to ask if he should send him some nude photos of Miriam in her prime. The next morning, Barney's daughter phones him to tell him that Blair had a minor heart attack, no doubt because of Barney's incessant antagonizations.
Barney is a bit too concerned with getting to Grumpy's Bar to give his full attention to the issue. His drinking, however, is interrupted by Detective O'Hearne (Mark Addy), the man who accused him of murdering his best friend, Boogie (played by the oh so attractive Scott Speedman, who really hasn't gotten enough screen time since Felicity ended), and who has recently written a trashy tell-all book called With Friends Like These, a supposed exposé on how Barney killed Boogie. And now, upon this encounter, screenwriter Michael Konyves sets up our segue into a flashback to Rome 1974, the year Barney married his first wife, Clara (Rachelle Lefevre), a real slag of a woman who gives birth to a child that turns out to be Barney's friend's (falling back on the always effective, "Well it's a black baby, so it sure as shit can't be mine!" plot device). Barney and Boogie hole up in his room until Barney discovers a note from Clara that Boogie was too careless to remember mentioning (one of countless examples of him being an asshole friend).
Barney's failure to respond to the note leads Clara to commit suicide. This little setback doesn't keep Barney down for long once he starts making money as a producer of a soap opera and is introduced by his uncle to the ultimate in high-strung, JAPpy women, billed simply as Mrs. P (Minnie Driver, whose English accent always seems detectable to me). It isn't until their wedding that Barney realizes (to quote Arrested Development) he's made a huge mistake. And not just because that's when he meets Miriam, his one true love.
The marriage invariably falls apart, culminating in Boogie sleeping with Barney's wife, Boogie and Barney getting into a heated argument (which is when Boogie falls off the pier at Barney's country house--Boogie is quite a clumsy drunk), and Boogie's disappearance. Luckily for Barney, rules in Canada are just as amazing as they are in the U.S. when it comes to being accused of a crime.
All of this high emotional drama--the death of a friend and a second divorce--would deter most men from entangling themselves in another romantic complication, but Barney's love for Miriam only appears to intensify throughout this entire ordeal. After persisting in calling her, sending her flowers, and at last informing her of his divorce, she agrees to meet with him for lunch. Barney, too smitten to stay sober, drinks a gulp or two more than he should have and ends up throwing up and passing out until waking up in his hotel room with Miriam at his side.
Once he recovers from his short-lived hangover, Barney and Miriam walk around New York City in a scene strikingly similar to any Woody Allen/Diane Keaton movie from the 70s. It is on this walk that they essentially commit to one another for the rest of their lives. The only hitch in this plan is the Blue Valentine syndrome where couples inevitably grow apart, as well as the The Notebook syndrome where one of the members of the couple has Alzheimer's. Goddamn, who knew Ryan Gosling was so pervasive in filmic references?