I have a long list of movies that I’ve been putting off and have been instead finding random films on Netflix that seem interesting. Apart from The Vicious Kind, this strategy has failed me. My newest endeavor was motivated by one of my favorite references in the always-awesome Archer, not due to literary preferences. I would have preferred watching the aforementioned video for eighty-two minutes than the film Bartleby.

In case you slept through high school English, here’s the Melville tale. The boss (David Paymer) hires an introvert, Bartleby (Crispin Glover), who ends up not performing the simple tasks required in his job description. The more Bartleby refuses; the more confused and intrigued the boss becomes. It’s a foray into the freedom of humankind to simply refuse anything offered them, but that is Melville’s work, not the film’s.

There is a distinct difference between low-budget and amateur filmmaking. Bartleby falls in the latter. Shockingly made in 2001, Bartleby more closely resembles quirky films from the 80’s like Earth Girls Are Easy (sidenote: if you don’t find that movie entertainingly stupid, something is off). With an increasingly annoying score, odd visuals and home video cinematography, Bartleby is completely incapable of attracting your attention.

The group of oddball characters further enhances the eccentricity of the film. When you trust your film to be carried by one of the more seasoned character actors (Paymer), you are dooming your film to mediocrity. I have nothing against Paymer. He has always been a good addition to films like The Five-Year Engagement, Bad Teacher and City Slickers, but he is not a good enough actor around which to build a film. Meanwhile, to Crispin Glover, happiness is – and has always – seemed like a foreign emotion. I’ll always remember him as the creepy guy who sniffed Drew Barrymore’s hair (might’ve been Cameron Diaz; it doesn’t matter) in Charlie’s Angels. He’s just as creepy here, and has really nothing to do.


The “best” part of the film is the inclusion of Joe Piscopo because he is a character and adds an extra level of absurdity to the film. The other office employees, Ernest (Maury Chaykin) and Vivian (Glenne Headly), are annoying. The only interesting part about Ernest is his ardent defense of actually answering, “How are you?” with something other than “fine.” Vivian’s breathy, innuendo-laden speech is fun at first for its eloquence, but bores quickly.

If you’re a big Melville fan, you may prefer seeing the classic story put into action. Otherwise steer clear. There’s no reason to watch this. Instead of watching this, explore the new layout and check out some of the older reviews.

  1. Having read the story last summer I have a hard time picturing it working as a film but I’ve got this in my Netflix Instant queue right now. After reading this I may postpone watching it for quite some time…

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