Now playing at the Angelika Film Center
The Power of Prefer
Glover is totally insane. Come on, we all know it! That's
why we love him so much. That's why we go to his movies.
We want to watch this nutty guy bound around the screen,
striking terror and confusion in the hearts and minds of
everyone on set. He's this totally unique catalyst, and
it's so much fun to watch insanity and craziness ooze out
of him and leak into all the other actors. What would you
expect from someone who celebrates his birthday on both
April twentieth and September twentieth (don't you love
the vast stores of useless knowledge you can pull off of
the IMDB)? I love this guy, ever since I saw River's
Edge, I can't get enough of him.
After stints in the mainstream with The People vs. Larry
Flint and Charlie's Angels, Glover has returned
to the independent circle with the titular role in an adaptation
of Herman Melville's Bartleby the Scrivener, simply
named Bartleby. It's a curious, charming little movie,
which does a splendid job exhibiting how strange, and powerful
the word prefer actually is. It also does a splendid
job exhibiting how strange and powerful Crispin Glover is.
The movie starts with a slow motion shot of Bartleby
(Glover) walking along a highway overpass. It's a very slow
start to a movie based on a very boring storyvery
dangerous. But the shot and the scene pay off, there are
justifications for them, and there's a quirky twist at the
end of it, which made me laugh. The director, Jonathan Parker,
pulls this trick a lot in Bartleby. It's a fairly
slow movie, with a very sedentary setvirtually all
of the scenes take place in the two rooms of the office,
but for every dull moment there is clever twist or inventive
one-liner that catches you by surprise and pulls a giggle
out of you.
And while the whole film may take place in the two-room
office, those two rooms are amazing. The autumnal woodland
scene that wallpapers one corner of the office, replete
with doe and deer is marvelous. The bright yellow dumpster
right outside of the boss' widow which is constantly being
banged open and slammed shut provides a sumptuous "view."
The colors of the walls are so vibrant that you are instantly
disorientated. But they are not so off that you don't believe
you're looking at an actual office. Nothing is so surreal
that it seems truly unreal. That's one of the keys to this
film. Parker twists the mundane world just enough to be
interesting, but not so much that it become fantastical.
It's a very fine line many directors fail to walk successfully.
The music by Seth Asarnow and Jonathan Parker heightens
these surreal-but-not unbelievable moments perfectly. Every
scene is scored with intention, generating a sick and demented,
but charming and lovable feeling for the movie as a whole.
The cast of five officemates all work well together. Their
characters are deep and original and, much like the way
that a well-oiled office will work as a seamless collective,
the cast and characters seem to move as one unit. Everyone
stands out, while no one rises above the rest. And this
is crucial. As much as I may love Crispin Glover, there
is no way that him saying, "I would prefer not to"
80 odd times is going to carry me through a movie. However,
thrust him right into the middle of an already quirky bunch
and it's funny almost every single time. The acting is above
par and everyone produces good comic performances. Even
Joe Piscopo managed not to piss me off too much.
Bartleby's pacing is almost perfect. The comic bits, while
obviously acting as comic bits (rather than worming their
way into the story's structure), work brilliantly. And the
patient unraveling of the bizarre is handled perfectly.
As soon as you are familiar with how odd the music is, you
see how strange the office, and then you notice what freaks
the characters are. As soon as you know all of the office
characters, in walks Bartleby, as soon as you get tired
of hearing him say, "I'd Prefer Not To", Parker
unravels another length of humor to bait you further. And
on and on it goes, right up to the end.
The ending is where the movie sort of falls flat, which
is a shame, as there was no need for it to. This movie has
a message, and anyone who didn't read the Melville story
when they were younger will glean the message pretty easily.
For some reason, however, Parker felt he had to spell it
out for us. Additionally, the Boss has a life shattering
epiphany at the very end that I thought he went through
twenty minutes beforehand. And, on top of that, Parker seems
to have run out of comic juice. The story might be able
to coast on its own if only the last few scenes could be
trimmed down and tightened a little.
Ratings (out of 4)
Two and a half ugly, unwanted bastard(ization)s
On sticking to the original material, this move takes a
lot of liberties. And thank god! It doesn't depart from
the original so much that you wonder just how far we can
stretch this whole "Based on a clever notion by
thing. But it wanders around, orbiting the original (oh
so boring) story from far enough out that the movie feels
like an original work.
Two and a half Glengarry Glenn Ross'
This is a very good ensemble performance. Parker does a
fantastic job of not letting Glover and Paymer steal the
show away from the three other office mates. And it's a
good thing, too. I don't think this movie would have been
able to ride solely on those two performances. All five
of them together, however, make for a fantastic mix.
Three issues of Martha Stewart Living
The ambiencethe sets and the props and the general
feel of the whole thingis really the key. It is the
funniest joke in the movie, it acts almost as a sixth character
onto itself, and it is also what the 9 to 5 audience will
most truly identify with. It has all been so perfectly and
intentionally crafted as well, not one chocolate nipple
is out of place. If only my office looked that funky.
Three Jedi Masters
burning in Agony.
This is a very cool movie. Like I said, it's slow, and the
ending needs some tightening, but it is very, very funny.
The cast rocks, and the direction is impeccable. For how
dull I found the original story to be, it's truly a feat
that something so delightful came out of it.
Writer: Jonathan Parker, Catherine DiNapoli
Director: Jonathan Parker
Staringr: Crispin Glover, David Paymer, Glenne Headly, Joe
Piscopo, Maury Chaykin