Bartleby (2002) - Rotten Tomatoes

Bartleby (2002)



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

Movie Info

Bartleby begins his new job in a public records company office near a freeway, with an air conditioner that vibrates and a window without a view. But his new boss has trouble coping with Bartleby's professional aspirations: to have no ambition, no goal except to do no work at all and to stand still for hours, indeed days at a time, in the middle of the office.

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David Paymer
as The Boss
Seymour Cassel
as Frank Waxman
Carrie Snodgress
as Book Publisher
Dick Martin
as The Mayor
Greta Danielle Newgren
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-Morrisey
as Ricky's French Girlfriend
Victoria Smith
as Rocky's Girlfriend No.2
Catherine DiNapoli
as Rocky's Girlfriend No.3
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 Shop
Susan Renati
as Little Girl's Mother
Deanna Price
as Woman in Dumpster
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Critic Reviews for Bartleby

All Critics (54) | Top Critics (20)

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

November 4, 2002 | Rating: D

An intriguing near-miss.

June 21, 2002 | Rating: 2.5/4 | Full Review…

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 | Rating: 2/4

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 | Rating: 2/4 | Full Review…

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 | Rating: 3/4
Top Critic

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

June 7, 2002 | Full Review…

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
paul sandberg

Super Reviewer

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