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Bartleby (2002)



Average Rating: 5.1/10
Reviews Counted: 54
Fresh: 19 | Rotten: 35

Bartleby is a rather dull affair, stretched over a too-long running time.


Average Rating: 4.9/10
Critic Reviews: 20
Fresh: 6 | Rotten: 14

Bartleby is a rather dull affair, stretched over a too-long running time.



liked it
Average Rating: 3.4/5
User Ratings: 1,977

My Rating

Movie Info

Herman Melville's short story Bartleby the Scrivener gets a slightly surreal update in this offbeat comedy drama. The manager (David Paymer) of the city records department in a mid-sized California community decides that his staff of three -- flirty chatterbox Vivian (Glenne Headly), sloppy Vietnam vet Ernie (Maury Chaykin), and slick-suited, Don Juan wannabe Rocky (Joe Piscopo) -- could use some help, so he places an ad looking for a new employee. The boss ends up hiring the one and only

Jul 8, 2003


Parker Film Co - Official Site External Icon

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All Critics (60) | Top Critics (22) | Fresh (19) | Rotten (35) | DVD (3)

What was subtle and mystifying in the novella is now broad and farcical.

November 4, 2002
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Top Critic IconTop Critic

An intriguing near-miss.

June 21, 2002 Full Review Source: Seattle Times
Seattle Times
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Except for Paymer as the boss who ultimately expresses empathy for Bartleby's pain, the performances are so stylized as to be drained of human emotion.

June 21, 2002 | Comment (1)
Philadelphia Inquirer
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The movie, like Bartleby, is something of a stiff -- an extra-dry office comedy that seems twice as long as its 83 minutes.

June 14, 2002 Full Review Source: Detroit Free Press
Detroit Free Press
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A much more successful translation than its most famous previous film adaptation, writer-director Anthony Friedman's similarly updated 1970 British production.

June 10, 2002 Full Review Source: Variety
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This is a shrewd and effective film from a director who understands how to create and sustain a mood.

June 7, 2002 Full Review Source: San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco Chronicle
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could have been better

April 9, 2008

The film was weird, but not funny or meaningful.

August 18, 2003 Full Review Source: Ozus' World Movie Reviews | Comment (1)
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

Glover is perfect for the role, and Paymer lends a strange, almost addictive voice to his character's vocal style.

July 9, 2003 Full Review Source:

Melville is often favored for his troubled heroes on their obsessive, nihilistic journeys into the abyss. Of course this kind of thing can be easy to screw up on film, as Parker has done here.

December 8, 2002 Full Review Source: Film Threat | Comment (1)
Film Threat

Paymer and Glover are terrific as the perplexed boss and the laconic non-performing employee.

October 21, 2002 Full Review Source: San Diego Metropolitan
San Diego Metropolitan

It's a film that hinges on its casting, and Glover really doesn't fit the part.

August 16, 2002 Full Review Source: Deseret News, Salt Lake City
Deseret News, Salt Lake City

You will likely prefer to keep on watching.

August 16, 2002 Full Review Source: Arizona Daily Star
Arizona Daily Star

It's surprisingly bland despite the heavy doses of weird performances and direction.

July 25, 2002
Your Movies (

Director Jonathan Parker gets points simply for trying to tackle the writings of Herman Melville.

July 16, 2002 Full Review Source: Kansas City Star
Kansas City Star

As a feature-length film, it wears out its welcome as tryingly as the title character.

July 14, 2002 Full Review Source: Boxoffice Magazine
Boxoffice Magazine

If Melville is creatively a great whale, this film is canned tuna.

June 21, 2002 Full Review Source: San Diego Union-Tribune
San Diego Union-Tribune

Co-writer/director Jonathan Parker's attempts to fashion a Brazil-like, hyper-real satire fall dreadfully short.

June 7, 2002

under-rehearsed and lifeless

June 6, 2002 Full Review Source: SPLICEDWire

Audience Reviews for Bartleby

Having seen the original film version of this back in the early 70's (with Paul Scofield I believe), I was intrigued; wondering if my teen impressions of Mr. Melville's classic short story would have the same kind of impact.

As presented here, the film attempts an update of the story, placing it in modern day within a faceless building. I would imagine that most of you know the story (I'm assuming that it is still required reading??) so I'm not going to go into the plot details; just let it be said that an odd soul answers an ad, gets hired and then begins stating that classic line whenever he is asked to do something other than simple filing: "I prefer not to".

In this interpretation, the office is filled (well, if you can call two other workers, a secretary and a boss, "filled") with odd types - Glenne Headley truly shines as the secretary and Joe Piscopo gives a fair turn as a suit wearing lothario, stuck in a job he hates.

At the center is David Paymer, who is the boss, and truly the focus of the film. He too is trapped, just doesn't realize it yet, and through it all his sense of humanity comes through - a fine performance.

Sadly, this was a very small budget film - not that this in itself was condemming, but I found the off beat humor a bit offsetting (but I guess required given the despair of the subject matter), and somehow it all didn't fit together - coming across more as a college film school take on the material; although the seque from a shot of an airconditioning grate to the outside of the building, making it look like bars of a prison cell, was a nice touch.

As the film fades to black and Paymer starts chanting "I prefer not to" shortly after mimicking the beginning scene where Bartleby grabs at the chain link that surrounds an overpass, you are left to wonder if the mantra is the key to freedom and if so, whether the true freedom can only come with making the ultimate sacrifice, turning your back on life itself.

You can discuss Mellville till the cows come home, but we're here to discuss the film - which, I suppose, has glimpses of a deeper meaning, but ultimately fails to offer a more compelling storyline. Ultimately, if you are familiar with the material, the interpretation offers nothing groundbreaking, and if you are uninitiated, you'll probably shrug at this and say WTF?
August 11, 2010
paul sandberg

Super Reviewer

    1. Bartleby: I would prefer not to.
    – Submitted by Scott R (2 years ago)
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