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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,… More

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Rotten Tomatoes Score: 35%

Critic Reviews from Rotten Tomatoes

"What was subtle and mystifying in the novella is now broad and farcical."
‑ Eleanor Ringel Gillespie, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"The movie, like Bartleby, is something of a stiff -- an extra-dry office comedy that seems twice as long as its 83 minutes."
‑ John Monaghan, Detroit Free Press
"could have been better"
‑ Stefan Birgir Stefansson,
"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."
‑ , Film Threat
"You will likely prefer to keep on watching."
‑ Phil Villarreal, Arizona Daily Star
"An intriguing near-miss."
‑ Moira MacDonald, Seattle Times
"A much more successful translation than its most famous previous film adaptation, writer-director Anthony Friedman's similarly updated 1970 British production."
‑ Joe Leydon, Variety
"The film was weird, but not funny or meaningful."
‑ Dennis Schwartz, Ozus' World Movie Reviews
"Paymer and Glover are terrific as the perplexed boss and the laconic non-performing employee."
‑ Jean Lowerison, San Diego Metropolitan
"It's surprisingly bland despite the heavy doses of weird performances and direction."
‑ Gerry Shamray, Your Movies (
"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."
‑ Carrie Rickey, Philadelphia Inquirer
"This is a shrewd and effective film from a director who understands how to create and sustain a mood."
‑ Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle
"Glover is perfect for the role, and Paymer lends a strange, almost addictive voice to his character's vocal style."
‑ David Cornelius,
"It's a film that hinges on its casting, and Glover really doesn't fit the part."
‑ Jeff Vice, Deseret News, Salt Lake City
"Director Jonathan Parker gets points simply for trying to tackle the writings of Herman Melville."
‑ Dan Lybarger, Kansas City Star
More reviews for Bartleby on Rotten Tomatoes