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A.J.'s Rating:  3 Dead Letters  (Cryptic, isn't it?)
Directed By:  Jonathan Parker
Written By:  Jonathan Parker  and Catherine DiNapoli (based on a story by Herman Melville)
Starring:  Crispin Glover, David Paymer, Glenne Headly, Maury Chaykin, Joe Piscopo
Rated:  PG-13 (Brief Sexual Content)
Running Time:  82 Min.
    He seemed a pleasant enough fellow.  He was clean cut, always arrived promptly, and presented himself quite professionally.  His name was Bartleby, and he worked in a small, nondescript public records office.  Bartleby was a diligent and dependable worker, that is, until one day...
    You see, Bartleby now prefers not to.  Ask Bartleby to file records?  Bartleby would prefer not to.  Ask Bartleby to run an errand?  Bartleby would prefer not to.  Ask Bartleby why he refuses to do these simple things?  Bartleby would prefer... not to say.
    The movie Bartleby is an updated telling of the story Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville, better known for another great work of literature.  (You know, the one with the whale.) The story of Bartleby is wildly strange, very funny, and ultimately tragic.  It also has something deeply philosophical to say about the human condition, though I'm not certain exactly what it is. (Just kidding; I know, but I'm not telling!)
    Rookie feature director Jonathan Parker uses every stylistic tool at his disposal to heighten the surreal qualities of this perplexing tale.  First of all, Crispin Glover plays Mr. Bartleby.  A more excellent example of perfect casting does not exist!  To add to this, Bartleby's every unnerving appearance is accompanied musically by the appropriately creepy theremin; yet another stroke of brilliance!  Visually, Parker has obviously found inspiration either from the works of Terry Gilliam, or from a recent visit to California.  Whatever the reason, the results are wonderfully bizarre.
    As for acting, Crispin Glover, if he was in fact 'acting', was great.  Also, the standout performance was by David Paymer,  who plays Bartleby's frustrated but strangely well meaning boss.  To make things even stranger, Glenne Headly, Joe Piscopo, and Maury Chaykin round out the cast as Bartleby's odd and eccentric co-workers.  Hmm, the more I think about this, Bartleby may be the most sane character in this film!  (Oops, I've given away the secret!)
    Fantastically quirky originality aside, there were a couple things about Bartleby that did bother me.  Most of the humorous scenes involving Bartleby's acquaintances reminded me of a Saturday Night Live sketch that just wouldn't end. (And no, it's not all Piscopo's fault!)  Also, the pace is a bit on the slow side, as Parker seems to have been intentionally stretching matters for a longer running time, a running time that still barely qualifies Bartleby as a feature-length film.  However, the good outweighs the bad, and I enjoyed this supremely peculiar movie despite its flaws.  You don't have to have a twisted sense of humor to like this film, but it helps!
    Bartleby is as weird as it is wonderful, so take my advice and see it today!  That is, unless of course, you would prefer not to.
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Review published
June 10, 2002
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