Bartleby (2002) - Rotten Tomatoes

Bartleby (2002)




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

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 applicant who wants the position, a quiet, pale young man named Bartleby (Crispin Glover). At first, Bartleby is a model of efficiency, but before long he loses enthusiasm for his job, much to the annoyance of his co-workers, and soon he's spending his days staring at an air conditioning vent. The Boss asks Bartleby to get back to work, but Bartleby's repeated reply to such requests is, "I prefer not to," and the Boss sees little recourse but to fire him. However, Bartleby refuses to leave his desk, and it soon becomes obvious that Bartleby has not only stopped doing his work -- he's stopped going home and has moved into the office. Bartleby was the first feature film for producer/director Jonathan Parker; he also wrote the screenplay, in collaboration with Catherine Di Napoli.more
Rating: PG-13 (for some sexual content)
Genre: Drama, Art House & International, Comedy
Directed By:
Written By: Catherine DiNapoli, Jonathan Parker, Catherine di Napoli
In Theaters:
On DVD: Jul 8, 2003
Box Office: $60.3k
Parker Film Co - Official Site


David Paymer
as The Boss
Seymour Cassel
as Frank Waxman
Carrie Snodgress
as Book Publisher
Dick Martin
as The Mayor
Greta Danielle Newgr...
as Narrator's Date
Stoney Burke
as Soup Kitchen Server
Ken Murakami
as Landlord
Josh Kornbluth
as Property Manager
Stuart Klitsner
as Genetics Professor
Nick Scoggin
as Street Philosopher
Pete Marvel
as Repairman
Karen Argoud-Morrise...
as Ricky's French Girlf...
Victoria Smith
as Rocky's Girlfriend N...
Catherine DiNapoli
as Rocky's Girlfriend N...
Louis Landman
as Police Officer
Robert Ernst
as Shut Up Man
James Carraway
as Fighting Vagrant
Tim Wiggins
as Fighting Vagrant
Howie Gordon
as Fighting Vagrant
Olivia Parker
as Little Girl in Donut...
Susan Renati
as Little Girl's Mother
Deanna Price
as Woman in Dumpster
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for Bartleby

Critic Reviews for Bartleby

All Critics (60) | Top Critics (22)

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

November 4, 2002
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Top Critic

An intriguing near-miss.

Full Review… | June 21, 2002
Seattle Times
Top Critic

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
Philadelphia Inquirer
Top Critic

The movie, like Bartleby, is something of a stiff -- an extra-dry office comedy that seems twice as long as its 83 minutes.

Full Review… | June 14, 2002
Detroit Free Press
Top Critic

A much more successful translation than its most famous previous film adaptation, writer-director Anthony Friedman's similarly updated 1970 British production.

Full Review… | June 10, 2002
Top Critic

This is a shrewd and effective film from a director who understands how to create and sustain a mood.

Full Review… | June 7, 2002
San Francisco Chronicle
Top Critic

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?

paul sandberg

Super Reviewer


Expected better. Melville's original story was great. Still fun to see insubordination pushed to the limit. How do I rate this film?? "I'd prefer not to..."


a hauntingly surreal and depressing look at the desperation of modern work-a-day life... the narrator has a few out of character moments when the narration doesnt quite match the character, but Glover is definitly a good fit for the film and Piscipoe is surprisingly good-granted, it might be a bit TOO depressive for the average viewer, but anyone stuck in a cubicle on a daily basis will relate to the film

Bartleby Quotes

– Submitted by Scott R (3 years ago)

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