Hi-Life [1998]

Roger Hedden's charming romantic comedy works where so many like ensemble projects fail--on the strength of its amiable characters. The simple but clever plot, which involves a gambling debt, a bartender collecting overdue IOUs, and a tangled web of lies, sets in motion the trajectories of a dozen or so characters wandering the streets of New York one chilly December night. Against this backdrop they pair off, group up, and slowly wind their way back to the very bar where it all started. Hedden's sharp ear for dialogue comes out in lilting, low-key conversations (he previously cowrote Sleep with Me and Bodies, Rest & Motion), but his greatest triumph is the casting. Campbell Scott, at his understated best as the warm, winsome center of the film, strolls through a series of Big Apple watering holes with all the quiet confidence and affable friendliness a wounded romantic can muster. Equally fine are sweetly sincere Moira Kelly as his sister, thoughtful debt collector Peter Riegert, goofy barfly Katrin Cartlidge, conniving creep Eric Stoltz, and especially the often misused Daryl Hannah, who sends sparks as Scott's old girlfriend. Hedden's leisurely pace gives us time to hang with the characters, who are fine company and never overstay their welcome (the film clocks in under 90 minutes). It's the kind of movie Hollywood has forgotten how to make, a modestly endearing little piece that eschews big drama for delightful characters and enchanting moments. --Sean Axmaker

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