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Overall Rating

Awesome: 20%
Worth A Look52%
Average: 4%
Pretty Bad: 24%
Total Crap: 0%

3 reviews, 7 user ratings

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by PaulBryant

"Jump! No, not that high…"
4 stars

A famous director, her daughter, the daughter’s fiancée, the fiancée’s secret lover, a faceless photographer, an Englishman, a writer, Isabella Rosselini, and the city of New York are the main characters in Heights, a new movie by first-time director Chris Terrio that was based on a play, and plays like a film that was based on a play.

Everyone in Heights, it appears, has the possibility to sleep with everyone else who appears in Heights. Its tone of extremely quiet, extreme deception, is hinted at within the first scenes of the movie, and then methodically raises the bar against itself until there are so many things left unsaid that we expect Paul Simon’s The Sound of Silence to fade in at every unlucky-in-love point of the movie.

Glenn Close (as Diana) opens the movie with a stunning monologue that reminds us what we’d almost forgotten: she’s a remarkable actress. Playing a famous New York stage and screen director, Close’s movie matriarch is one of her strongest portrayals, as a woman who sets her amorous sights on a few too many of the young actors who audition for her. One of them, a nervy, shy fellow named Alec (played by Jesse Bradford, who will make you forget he was ever in Swimfan) comes in to audition for her next play (which seems as destined for success as Diana’s designs on the young man) to play the role of a guy who is “gay, but not gay.”

And oh how ironic those words will become as the movie strolls on, as a Vanity Fair reporter (John Light) is sent on a mission to discover a photographer’s (the only-talked-about Benjamin Stone, whom we wish would show up near the end of the movie just to throw a wrench in things, a la Harry Lime in The Third Man) muse, and finds all sort of unturned pebbles in the form of men who are straight but not straight. Or are they? That's a question Heights ponders a little too often, and believes to be of utmost importance, but fails to appreciate that the audience is at least one step ahead of the story, and has already answered the questions before they’re asked, which makes the posing and the solving equally futile.

The film is a rather intelligent mess, but a mess all the same – with too many variant ideas, characters, and motivations for me to mention here. The main ones: Diana’s relationship with her daughter, Isabel (Elizabeth Banks, very Naomi Watts); Isabel’s flawed wedding plans with fiancée Jonathan (James Marsden, in a performance that is refreshing in the way it sidesteps stereotypes); and a writer, Peter, who must research the past of his current lover for an Vanity Fair article. All these stories are separated in far less than six degrees, and the film seems to revel in the way it can show you just how small the world (and especially New York) is – although you could probably get just as much satisfaction finding out how close your conncection is to Kevin Bacon.

The problem is that the film hints at way too much, when it could have truly benefited from saying much more, much earlier on. Set over an unbelievably eventful 24 hours, Heights grapples with temporal overload and unmanageable coincidence. It hinges too much drama on secrets, and the way that secrets create webs of deception, when it could have intrigued us much more by giving us those secrets straight up, so that we could marvel in the creation of the web, instead of merely gawking at its intricacy.

Making the audience complicit in the undertakings of the characters, and the motivations which the undertakings create, would have been far more interesting toward trying to get the audience to empathize with some rather hoity-toity, high-cheekboned, unsympathetic characters, in a movie whose recipe is 2 parts Magnolia, but at least 3 parts Young and the Restless. The story is clever and ponderous enough to not have had to pull all its loose strings together at the end, which, as valiant as the effort towards resolution is, becomes strangely anti-climactic. Its power is in the characters, not in the plotting (and certainly not in the staging) and yet the narrative is preoccupied with trying to amuse the audience with its clever meetings, chance encounters, and simultaneous revelations.

To get the most out of the movie, you must look past its clunky mise-en-scene and glean what is at the heart of its objectives, which is how a person’s private life can affect their public life, and vise versa. It subtly shows how a personal burden can make a photographer decide not to take a career-changing opportunity, and yet how that same photographer’s personal life is drastically altered by the very nature of her voyeuristic occupation. Similarly, it shows how a public life can envelop personal space, causing an actress to incessantly recite Shakespeare at odd moments of personal distress, as well as making a man terrified that a public display of his picture will reveal a private corner of his mind. Heights whirls this type of subtext superbly, but you really have to want to pluck it out of the story, and even more, you'll have to want to appreciate it.

Heights, tries, succeeds, flounders, and tries to succeed again. It does a decent job of flushing six plotlines (conservative estimate) into one, but its choppy direction halts any flow. It is a movie that wouldn’t have been great with a different director, and certainly could have been worse, but which has aching prospects of being just that little bit better. A flowing, more assured camera, more sense of irony, less over-the-shoulder, whirl-around-at-last-moment melodrama would have notched up the ensemble piece into what it should have been.

Think Altman, think Anderson, throw in a dash of Nichols, and then scale back a level.

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originally posted: 07/09/05 08:51:36
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2005 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/11/06 Bill Hi all 5 stars
12/25/05 Natalie glenn close is amazing, best script of a movie i have seen in years 5 stars
7/09/05 Linda Crab Banks, inept,woden,valley girl speech,shallow, callow,sabotaged the integrity of the movie. 4 stars
2/02/05 Angela Brodsky entertaining and smart 5 stars
2/01/05 drtednelson surprisingly unlikeable characters 3 stars
1/29/05 Shawnda Williams Beautiful NYC movie 5 stars
1/28/05 bob Marino Oscar for Close, no doubt...stunning 5 stars
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  17-Jun-2005 (R)
  DVD: 01-Nov-2005



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