Bartleby

"Terrible"

Bartleby Review


Perhaps I'm too much of a literalist to stomach a thickly ironic, extremely low-budget adaptation of Herman Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener" set in an eerily sterile modern office. Or perhaps writer-director Jonathan Parker's update of the conceptual tale about a boss driven crazy by an uncooperative employee really is as under-rehearsed and lifeless as it seems to me.

At the center of "Bartleby" is the title character, a meek, withdrawn oddball played by Crispin Glover (the Thin Man in "Charlie's Angels" and George McFly in "Back to the Future") with his quiet, uneasy, string-bean quirkiness turned up full blast. He comes to work as a paper-pusher in a government records office for a fidgety boss (David Paymer) whose subservient existence of sedated equilibrium is thrown for a loop when Bartleby simply stops working one day, answering every order and request with "I would prefer not to."

Before long he's living in the office and spending the better part of each day staring at an air conditioning duct while Paymer goes nuts trying to reason with him.

I understand the film is supposed to be metaphorical, surreal and absurdist. The office building is one of dozens perched atop small hills that are surrounded by freeways. The office itself is painted awkward colors, flocked with forest-scene wallpaper, and has a view of the building's dumpsters. And just to drive the point home, the soundtrack features the frequent bleating of a Theremin (that woo-eee-ooh instrument from old sci-fi movies and the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations").

But because the acting is so stilted and the movie's shoestring budget leaves it with community theater production values, the characters and the situations never seem viable enough to surrender to the movie's peculiar milieu. As a result, one is left wanting to slap Paymer and ask, why don't you just fire Bartleby?

When the boss finally does come to that conclusion, the story becomes even more nonsensical. "When you're done cleaning out your desk," Paymer instructs as he leaves Bartleby alone in the office at the end of his last day, "please lock the door on your way out and slip the key under the door." That's not surreal. That's just stupid.

And of course, guess who's still in the office, staring at the A/C vent come Monday morning.

What writer-director Parker seems to be going for is a cross between Melville's cog-in-the-wheel fulfillment allegory and something akin to "Being John Malkovich," which explores similar themes with much better success. But what he ends up with is an inaccessible, badly acted farce.



Bartleby

Facts and Figures

Run time: 83 mins

In Theaters: Saturday 10th March 2001

Box Office USA: $60.3k

Distributed by: Parker Film Co

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 35%
Fresh: 19 Rotten: 35

IMDB: 6.4 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Johnathan Parker

Starring: as Bartleby, as The Boss

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Trumbo Movie Review

Trumbo Movie Review

An entertaining film about sobering true events, this is the story of notorious screenwriter Dalton...

Goosebumps Movie Review

Goosebumps Movie Review

Mixing the action, comedy and horror from novelist R.L. Stein's books into a family-friendly package,...

Dad's Army Movie Review

Dad's Army Movie Review

The beloved 1970s British sit-com gets the big screen treatment, although there's been very little...

Spotlight Movie Review

Spotlight Movie Review

This film demonstrates that you don't need guns to make an exciting thriller. Based on...

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi Movie Review

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi Movie Review

Not the subtlest director working in Hollywood, Michael Bay brings his surging machismo to this...

Dirty Grandpa Movie Review

Dirty Grandpa Movie Review

There's nothing clever about this deliberately rude and vulgar comedy, but certain audiences will find...

The Big Short Movie Review

The Big Short Movie Review

Smart and snappy, this comedy is one of the scariest films of the year, using...

Advertisement
The 5th Wave Movie Review

The 5th Wave Movie Review

Also based on the first in a trilogy of post-apocalyptic teen novels, this thriller feels...

Ride Along 2 Movie Review

Ride Along 2 Movie Review

Ice Cube and Kevin Hart reteam for a sequel no one really asked for, following...

Room Movie Review

Room Movie Review

One of the most extraordinary films of the year, this drama cleverly weaves in events...

Creed Movie Review

Creed Movie Review

While this film is basically Rocky VII, it's also much more than that, and perhaps...

A Perfect Day Movie Review

A Perfect Day Movie Review

An irreverent comedy in the style of the original M.A.S.H., this wartime romp takes an...

Partisan Movie Review

Partisan Movie Review

With his feature debut, young Australian filmmaker Ariel Kleiman tells a creepy story about a...

The Revenant Movie Review

The Revenant Movie Review

A wrenching saga of survival and revenge, Alejandro G. Inarritu's new epic is just as...

The Hateful Eight Movie Review

The Hateful Eight Movie Review

Quentin Tarantino is a filmmaker who simply can't be ignored, especially when he lobs a...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.