Bartleby Movie Review

Destined to inspire new lows in workplace slackerdom, Jonathan Parker's Bartleby is a cryptic take on workplace politics and motivation, courtesy of Herman Melville's short story, "Bartleby the Scrivener."

Given a weirdly futuristic spin, Jonathan Parker's interpretation of Bartleby takes him out of a law office and into a public records commission, subtly morphing from typist to file clerk. More notably than all that is Parker's balls-out casting, with the certifiably unhinged Crispin Glover taking the role of the lowest-of-low-key peons.

Unfortunately, the bulk of innovation within Bartleby is found within Glover's casting, and it doesn't spill over to the rest of the movie. From its nauseating spinning credits sequence to a very talented but underutilized supporting cast, Bartleby squanders as much as it gives out.

The one-joke premise is a simple one. Bartleby, the only applicant who responds to David Paymer's help wanted ad, begins his filing job with diligence, but soon inexplicably turns into an unmotivated drone, staring at the a/c vent and responding to requests that he do the tasks he was hired to do only with the phrase: "I would prefer not to."

This naturally perturbs both the boss and Bartleby's co-workers (including Maury Chaykin, Glenne Headly, and Joe Piscopo!), to the point where Paymer's character is forced to fire Bartleby. And yet the man still won't leave!

Things get weirder and weirder in the fashion of Brazil or The Metamorphosis, until, well, until things just stop making sense. Much of Bartleby is lacking in the appropriate context, with random oddities (notably vignettes featuring Piscopo and Chaykin) peppering the production (for obvious padding time) but never going anywhere. Despite its 83 minute running time, the film quickly becomes tedious, Bartleby's mantra degenerating into a monotonous whine instead of the working-class battle cry it ought to be.

That said, Bartleby has its moments, and it's those aforementioned disjointed bits that are ironically the movie's most memorable. The story of Bartleby himself, I fear, is one that will soon be forgotten.

Screened at the movie's world premiere at the 2001 SXSW film festival.

I prefer not to watch.

Comments

Bartleby Rating

" Weak "

Rating: PG-13, 2000

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