Bartleby

on May 24, 2002 by Christine James
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Human quirk Crispin Glover is cannily cast as Bartleby, the sole applicant for a clerical position at a depressingly fluorescent and under-maintained public records office situated atop a dismal butte amidst a tangle of freeways. Despite his intense, withdrawn, evasive manner, he's hired by the affable, comically formal-speaking manager (David Paymer) who, at first, finds himself pleasantly surprised by Bartleby's efficiency. But when Bartleby begins to do less and less, quietly asserting that he'd "prefer not to" perform the tasks requested of him, yet wordlessly refusing to leave when repeatedly fired, he gravely unsettles the admittedly dreary and pointless lives of his colorful but directionless co-workers.

Just as Herman Melville wrote "Bartleby the Scrivner" at novella length, so too should Jonathan Parker, director/scripter/producer of this darkly comic adaptation, have kept to a truncated format. As a short film, "Bartleby," with its wonderfully eccentric protagonists, oblique aura and palpably-realized claustrophobic atmosphere, could have been a witty evocation of the desperation and surreality of mundanity. As a feature-length film, it wears out its welcome as tryingly as the title character. Starring Crispin Glover, David Paymer, Glenne Headly, Joe Piscopo and Maury Chaykin. Directed by Jonathan Parker. Written and produced by Jonathan Parker and Catherine di Napoli. An Outrider release. Black comedy. Rated PG-13 for some sexual content. Running time: 82 min

Tags: dark comedy, adaptation, psychological, Crispin Glover, David Paymer, Glenn Headley, Joe Piscopo, Maury Chaykin, Jonathan Parker
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