David Bezmozgis | February 23, 2011
There is a bias in Hollywood against voice-over narration. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve sat in a meeting and heard producers and development people go on and on about how they hate voice-over, calling it a “device.” I feel differently, however. My thinking is that if it can embellish the material, it should be used. The problem is that far too often it is used as a crutch. It’s redundant (we hear what we see) and therefore, downright boring. This has given voice-over narration a bad name. Yet we have seen it used effectively in films from the past, such as Little Big Man and My Life as a Dog, or more recent films, such as Easy A and Juno.
Even if I agree with you about the flow of the movie being better without the use of Barney’s particularly idiosyncratic voice, which is ultimately the main artery into Richler’s voice, I still have this nagging sense that something is missing in the film. To be honest, I am not sure I will ever be totally happy with the film but this opens up a whole other can of worms. Most artists, in general, are never really satisfied with the final product. We are always the Monday-morning quarterback, wishing we had done it like this and not like that. Don’t get me wrong, there are many things I like about Barney. The wedding sequence, for example, always gives me a kick. But in retrospect, I do miss Barney’s voice, because without it I feel that we are missing the notion of his actual “version.” His voice would have given the title more resonance and, in doing so, perhaps given more cogency to the piece as a whole. Also, for the audience, the concept of unreliable narrator would have been far easier to grasp.