SXSW Film Reviews
One can safely assume that Herman Melville never imagined the title character of his dark tale "Bartleby the Scrivener" in an episode of The Drew Carey Show.
D: Jonathan Parker; with David Paymer, Crispin Glover, Glenne Headly, Joe Piscopo, Maury Chaykin. (35mm, 83 min.)
One can safely assume that Herman Melville never imagined the title character of his dark tale "Bartleby the Scrivener" in an episode of The Drew Carey Show. But in this updated adaptation, Melville's enigmatic clerk wanders into an office that's standard-issue sitcom, replete with mustard yellow walls, avocado green filing cabinets, and "kooky" co-workers: the sexpot secretary (a slinky Headley), the beefy stud (Piscopo, a cross between an aging Jerry Lewis and a thuggish Sinatra), and the lumpish klutz (a hapless Chaykin). Between Headley's sultry come-ons and Chaykin's fumbling schtick, Bartleby begins refusing all directives with the phrase "I would prefer not to," unnerving his boss and raising questions of responsibility and conformity. The mix of broad comedy and moral inquiry is odd, but director Parker handles the contrasting material evenly and elicits strong performances, especially from Paymer and Glover. Glover displays his trademark weirdness, but he also invests Bartleby with a genuinely haunted quality, and Paymer journeys convincingly from bewilderment to frustration to concern. A curious translation that somehow communicates Melville's power in a cartoon world. (CC, 3/16, 5:15pm)