I was unreservedly looking forward to seeing the relatively new film Barney’s Version. This was partly because I think that Paul Giamatti is truly super and partly because, even though the film is set in Canada, it’s easy to see from the trailer that you’ll be able to forget all about that and think that you’re watching people who live in old New York, especially given the presence of Dustin Hoffman, taking a short break from prostituting his talents in Little Fockers. On the way out of the cinema, I said to my companion that I wished I didn’t like Giamatti so much because it seemed like such an uninterestingly right-on kind of opinion to have, as with those people who make a really big deal about how Being John Malkovich is their favourite movie of all time. Then, however, my companion disabused me of this notion, informing me that Giamatti is no longer a particularly cool actor to admire, which just shows how much I know.
In any case, it must be a drag to be Giamatti and have to read endless articles mentioning your conspicuous lack of ‘conventional leading-man good looks’. If I were an actor, I just know I would want to do a Doctor Faustus-style trade of some of my massive talent in exchange for the kind of attractive physique and visage that mean that if interviewed for a periodical, a given article will always feature reports along the lines that Person X ‘isn’t wearing a scrap of make-up and has a cap jammed over her unruly curls, but she is still strikingly beautiful as she tucks into a huge plate of spaghetti carbonara’. Still, why should Giamatti care, on the other hand? He must have realised from early on in his involvement with the project that while playing gruff television producer Barney Panofsky he was going to be doing pretty well for himself, surrounded as he is by a bevy of beauties.
First, there’s Rachelle Lefevre as Clara, who is the kind of mentally unbalanced woman you see mainly in Stardust Memories, Betty Blue and the video for the Cars’ ‘Drive’ (more on this later) – that is, deranged but totally hot, as opposed to deranged but wandering the streets while wearing ankle socks and carrying a couple of big stripey bags. Then there’s Minnie Driver as ‘the 2nd Mrs P’, who makes a to-do about Barney showering prior to her showing him any fellatio action, and is shallow, unwarrantedly conceited and talks too much but is, at least, going to inherit loads of money from her father one day. Then there’s Rosamund Pike as Miriam, the third Mrs Panofsky and the big love of his life. Barney meets Miriam at his wedding to the 2nd Mrs P, and she shows herself to be the ideal woman by dint of, amidst the clatter of the reception, respecting a good cigar and being amused rather than judgmental at the fact that Barney is preoccupied with the hockey scores. To my mind, Miriam becomes fairly boring after this brief display of easy tolerance, but everyone in the movie seems to think she’s great. There is also an attractive young woman whom Barney meets in a bar while Miriam is away visiting their son, and with whom, because he is apparently incapable of being alone, and because he sees fit to deal with the fear of rejection by ensuring he’ll be rejected, he has the one-night stand that brings about, once and for all, the end of his union with a woman whom he had only managed to get down the aisle after an extended and effortful pursuit.
Watching Barney’s antics made me consider the fact that I hadn’t read a magazine article for a while on the topic of men who are not conventionally attractive having coupled with women who are conventionally attractive. I can recall a time that you could always depend on such a piece, which would unfailingly be titled either ‘Beauty and the Beast’ or ‘Is She Really Going Out With Him?”, appearing in the pages of either Cleo or Cosmopolitan, and sometimes in both of them simultaneously. The couples who would unfailingly be selected as examples of this outrageous phenomenon were Julia Roberts and Lyle Lovett, and Ric Ocasek and Paulina Porizkova. The pundit authoring the article would then weigh in on how something like this could possibly have happened (generally attributed to a mental affinity; in Porizkova’s case that Ocasek was her ideal combination of Mr Spock, David Bowie, Jesus Christ and Chopin) and whether such a union of physical opposites could conceivably last in this world in which we live (or ‘this ever-changing world in which we live in’ as Paul McCartney ungrammatically puts it in ‘Live and Let Die’).
In the case of Roberts and Lovett, it, of course, didn’t last, so we can dispense with them pretty quickly. However, it was a whole other story with Ocasek and Porizkova, who met in 1984, while making the ‘Drive’ video. Unfortunately, the song itself sounds exactly like something from the pen of Foreigner, making me wish that the happy couple had met on the set of the video for the much jauntier ‘You Might Think’. On the other hand, as Ocasek wasn’t doing the heavy lifting with the ‘Drive’ vocals, he and Porizkova got to do all the music-video acting; in particular, having a fight, the words of which we can’t hear, while she gesticulates and looks gorgeous, and he doesn’t gesticulate and looks slightly jaundiced, although that might just be due to the Piss Christ-hued lighting. At the time, Ocasek was married and aged thirty-five and Porizkova was a nineteen-year-old supermodel, and it makes me feel good about life that their coupledom has lasted so long when this is a pairing that, on paper, you would expect to have gone the way of Leyland Brothers World. Anyway, what has always interested me about the ‘beauty and the beast’ media literature is how I would feel about things if I were the ‘beast’. Would I sink into depression, and come angrily to resent my beautiful mate, due to all this discussion of my extreme physical unattractiveness, or would it make my triumph in bagging a beauty even sweeter? Further to this topic, I’m not sure who first charmingly philosophised ‘Show me a beautiful woman and I’ll show you a man who’s tired of fucking her’ but I, frankly, doubt from the bottom of my heart that this is true, primarily because it is rare for a man to get tired of fucking anybody whatsoever, unless, as in Drugstore Cowboy or Leaving Las Vegas, he’s a drug addict or alcoholic.
And, getting back to Barney’s Version, it did, in the end, have an emotional impact on me, because of its entirely convincing depiction of the way people just screw things up. Barney doesn’t wreck everything with Miriam because he’s tired of her. Rather, it’s just that, no matter how much in love with her he is, it doesn’t mean that he’s going to make an effort to listen to her conduct an interview on the radio in preference to going to a bar and getting hammered while watching the hockey. Barney is, of course, semifortunate that he develops Alzheimer’s, so that at least he can forget how stupid he’s been, even if nobody else can. It’s merely a shame that, for everybody’s sake, he couldn’t have been more of a glorious mishmash of Mr Spock, David Bowie, Jesus Christ and Chopin.