Bartleby (2001) – movie review

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Movie Review by Vivienne Messenger

Starring: David Paymer, Crispin Glover, Glenne Headly, Maury Chaykin, Joe Piscopo
Director: Jonathan Parker

“He was hired, but preferred not to work! He was fired, but preferred not to leave!” – takes on a whole new meaning in this film when office clerk Bartleby (Crispin Glover) leaves his former job in the dead letter office within the postal service and is employed as additional help by the boss (David Paymer) of a faceless firm that deals with public records, filing and verifying claims.

At first seeming to fit into this dull office perched desolately and in the middle of nowhere between highways, Bartleby’s weird mannerisms soon focus his fellow eccentric co-workers’ attention onto himself with his non-compliance to requests from his boss to deviate from the simplest filing tasks with the response, “I would prefer not to.” This initially perplexes his boss but soon disrupts the office’s smooth running and grates on everyone’s nerves. As the boss uncovers stranger things on Bartleby – he doesn’t drive but you can’t get to the office unless you drive and he keeps a towel and toothbrush at the back of his top desk drawer – he becomes increasing suspicious and anxious to the extent that Bartleby pervades his dreams at night. As Bartleby’s behaviour becomes more bizarre so too does his boss’ determination to get rid of him which seems equally difficult.

A very curious movie BARTLEBY is extremely slow paced and is a low budget film that takes place mostly in three uninspiring, dreary office rooms. Add to this the awful soundtrack, which becomes increasingly irritating and is very monotonous, the movie doesn’t seem to have a whole lot going for it. It’s saving grace is the fact that it is well acted by the ensemble cast especially Crispin Glover and is interspersed with some extremely funny incidents such as when the boss asks Bartleby to help him tie the bow on a present but Bartleby’s extreme reluctance ends with the words, “I would prefer not to” so he uses his nose instead. Co-worker Ernie (Maury Chaykin) puts in a memorable performance with his run in with a photocopier and a water dispenser while Glenne Headly as Vivian, the sexy secretary/office-manager, is also well acted.

Adapted from Herman Melville’s (author of Moby Dick) classic short story ‘Bartleby the Scrivener’, it was written and directed by Jonathan Parker and is certainly very different from your average film. It’s worth watching if you can stand the slow pace of Bartleby’s increasing rebellion against the establishment.

2 out of 6 stars