Highball

In the span of six days following the completion of filming his second quirky upper middle class urban American comedy Mr. Jealousy, Noah Baumbach and the cast and crew of that movie filmed Highball. This project, saddled as it was with shoestring production values, muddled editing and a hit or miss script, was a great disappointment to Baumbach. He insisted on having his name removed from the directing and writing credits (the film was written by Baumbach, his co-star and college friend Carlos Jacot and co-star Christopher Reed) and replaced with pseudonyms. (Most directors looking to do this ask for an Alan Smithee but, for reasons I cannot answer, he apparently didn’t go that route.) Anyhow, not a bad call on his part. Mercifully, Highball never received a theatrical release and died on the “direct to DVD” vine. This is a film, truly, only for Baumbach superfans like me.

While most of Baumbach’s early films resemble those of Whit Stillman, Highball is truly a pale imitation of Stillman’s Manhattan. It focuses on a group of post-collegiate late-20-something Brooklynites through the use of three singular settings: a birthday party dinner, a Halloween party and a New Years eve party. This ensemble negotiate their intertwined romances, figure out their sexuality, determine if whether or not they’re “starfuckers” (Ally Sheedy and Rae Dawn Chong appear as themselves as dates of Eric Stoltz’s character) and both express great affection as well as snipe at eachother.

Few performances stand out. Carlos Jacot is (as always) excellent in the role of douchey sort of friend Felix who, by the end, has made some serious, perhaps psychotic break related transition to a semi-catatonic nice guy (who belts out a bizarre Tiny Tim-esque karaoke version of “Beautiful Dreamer”). Perhaps my favorite actor of the 90s, Chris Eigemann is, unfortunately, wasted in a small role, only showing his one of a kind comedic acting skills during a scene when he argues with his co-worker who, despite Eigemann’s instructions, comes to the Halloween party dressed in the same full coverage, college mascot type lizard costume as he.

Of interest are two small roles: the brief appearance of Dean Wareham, veteran of the canonic 90s NYC indie rock bands Luna and Galaxie 500, as a New Year’s Date who flexes his delicate pipes on their karaoke machine and an appearance by filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich as the strange older friend who’s always around and demonstrates quite good Jimmy Stewart, W.C. Fields and Marlon Brando impressions.

As I said, certainly a must see for big fans of Baumbach (and, of course, the sadly underappreciated Carlos Jacot) but stay away unless you’ve absolutely got to see everything the man has made. There are some legitimatley hilliarous Baumbachian moments but their much more sparse than usual.

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