Film Review: Bartleby (2001)

Also known as: Bartleby at the Office (working title)
Release Date: March 10th, 2001 (SXSW)
Directed by: Jonathan Parker
Written by: Herman Melville, Jonathan Parker, Catherine DiNapoli
Based on: Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville
Music by: Seth Asarnow, Jonathan Parker
Cast: David Paymer, Crispin Glover, Glenne Headly, Maury Chaykin, Joe Piscopo, Seymour Cassel, Carrie Snodgrass, Dick Martin

Parker Film Company, 83 Minutes

Review:

“I would prefer not to.” – Bartleby

Outside of his own directorial efforts, Bartleby may be the most Crispin Glover movie out of all the Crispin Glover movies ever made.

But I’ve always liked Glover and since I hadn’t seen this since it was fairly new, I figured it was time to revisit it. Plus, it was available for free to Prime members.

The film is a modernized adaptation of Herman Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivemer and despite its setting, it doesn’t really deviate too much from the source material. I also think that the creative approach makes it more palatable to a modern audience, who might not want to read the old story or watch the 1970 adaptation of it.

While Crispin Glover plays the title character, the main character is actually The Boss, played by David Paymer.

Paymer approaches the role a bit understated, except where emotion overcomes him. It’s a really good performance and he is able to display agitation and care on almost the flip of a dime. He feels damn genuine, as he tries to understand and deal with the difficulties of his new employee.

Glover’s performance is even more understated than Paymer’s but the role of Bartleby calls for that, as one has to assume that he’s a guy that’s just given up on life. What’s interesting about the story is that you never really get to solve or really understand the mystery that is Bartleby. He comes into the story and eventually, his story is over, not revealing much about him. Now there are some clues as to why he was so depressed and unable to participate in the world but it’s never made fully clear to the viewer.

The cast is rounded out by other really talented people who work at or come into the office. You have Glenne Headly as the secretary with Joe Piscopo and Maury Chaykin as co-workers who become very disgruntled over Bartleby’s lack of effort. Seymour Cassel also appears in a minor role as a sort of sleazy businessman.

I like the style and simplicity of the film. It feels otherworldly and its supposed to but it works well for the material. Everything is also helped out by an interesting, quirky and cool score by Seth Asarnow and the film’s director, Jonathan Parker.

Overall, this is a strange but interesting movie that was the perfect vehicle for someone as unique and talented as Glover. I don’t know if it was made with him in mind for the title character but it really was perfect casting and gave the film a certain mystique it probably would’ve been lacking without his involvement.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: the 1970 adaptation of Bartleby, as well as other films starring Crispin Glover.