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Now playing at the Angelika Film Center

The Power of Prefer

Crispin 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 Pros

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 story—very 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 set—virtually 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 Cons

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 ambience—the sets and the props and the general feel of the whole thing—is 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.

--Carter Edwards

Writer: Jonathan Parker, Catherine DiNapoli
Director: Jonathan Parker
Staringr: Crispin Glover, David Paymer, Glenne Headly, Joe Piscopo, Maury Chaykin

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