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Highball (1997)

highball,eric stoltz,highball movieHighball is a comedy written by Noah Baumbach, Carlos Jacott and Christopher Reed (all credited as “Jesse Carter”), and directed by Noah Baumbach (as “Ernie Fusco”). It was shot in six days, a few weeks after production on Mr. Jealousy wrapped, and with pretty much the same people.


Comic antics occur during three parties–a birthday party, a Halloween party and a New Years Eve bash–as a group of friends bicker throughout the holiday season.


eric stoltz,highball,noah baumbachLauren Katz, Chris Reed, Carlos Jacott, Eric Stoltz, Dean Cameron, Ally Sheedy, Chris Eigeman, Noah Baumbach, Justine Bateman, Peter Bogdanovich, Rae Dawn Chong, Andrea Bowen, James P. Engel, Catherine Kellner, Annabella Sciorra


Written and directed beneath the disguise of pseudonyms (“Ernie Fusco” and “Jesse Carter”) and shot across six days on leftover money and film stock from MR. JEALOUSY, Noah Baumbach’s HIGHBALL is, I dare say, a low-budge comic masterpiece which was marketed as a straight-to-video SWINGERS clone.

eric stoltz,highball,ally sheedyYou can hardly blame them, though — it’s not like the ‘overeducated, disaffected, metropolitan youth’ subgenre had been packing ’em in since the heyday of late 70’s Woody Allen. And while many have drawn parallels between these films and Allen’s, I almost see 90’s Noah Baumbach (KICKING AND SCREAMING, MR. JEALOUSY, HIGHBALL) and Whit Stillman (METROPOLITAN, BARCELONA, LAST DAYS OF DISCO) as a mini-genre unto themselves, especially separate from what came after: say, the stylistically bold, storybook forays of Wes Anderson; the meaner, more acerbic, post-2004 Baumbach; and the either too-hollow or too-mawkish latter-day fumblings of the so-called Mumblecore.

eric stoltz,peter bogdanovich,highballShot inside someone’s apartment with cheap, stark lighting and tinny sound, many will be put off by the low production value, but you A/V snobs will be ignoring one of the wittiest and best-acted comedy films in the last twenty years. — Junta Juleil’s Culture Shock



More info, from an interview with Noah Baumbach (The A.V. Club, Nov. 2005)

AVC: Why have you disowned Highball?
NB: It’s not obvious? [Laughs.] The truth is, I never “owned” Highball. It really was an experiment, and kind of a foolish experiment, because I didn’t think about what the ramifications would be if it didn’t work. But it was made with all the best intentions, which was to try and make a movie in six days, and use all the same people from Mr. Jealousy, with all their goodwill, and bring in some more people. And it was a funny script. But it was just too ambitious. We didn’t have enough time, we didn’t finish it, it didn’t look good, it was just a whole… mess. [Laughs.] We couldn’t get it done, and I had a falling out with the producer. He abandoned it, and I had no money to finish it, to go back and maybe get two more days or something. Then later, it was put out on DVD without my approval.

eric stoltz in highballAVC: You didn’t think about the ramifications? What ramifications?
NB: Just that I feel about as much ownership of Highball as I do the Hi-8 videos I made the summers I was in college. But those aren’t out on DVD. [Laughs.] I mean the ramifications like, if Justine Bateman and Rae Dawn Chong are in your movie, someone’s going to try to make money. It doesn’t matter if you finished it, or even felt like you got a movie out of it.

AVC: Is there also an element of trying to control your filmography, the way a musician tries to control his discography? And then some ex-manager comes along and puts out Live At The Cavern Club?
NB: Right, exactly. Fortunately, there are enough of those in other people’s careers I admire, so I can think, “Yeah, okay, this is my Live At The Cavern Club.” Highball is my Mr. Arkadin, or one of the many Orson Welles movies that are all a thousand times better than Highball.

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