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Overall Rating
3.68

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

3 reviews, 7 user ratings


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Heights
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by W. Scott Gordon

"Despite Lofty Aspirations, “Heights” Never Quite Soars"
2 stars

Loneliness, alienation, selfishness, and paralyzing apathy are the central themes in this New York-based film, whose high aspirations and low characters are sadly mismatched. Are we having fun yet?

Chris Terrio’s directorial debut, Heights, uses apartment buildings and stages as metaphors for the vicissitudes of New York life. When you’re onstage gazing down upon the masses, the world is your oyster. When you’re offstage in the rabble, merely a “useless voyeur,” or photographing the tiny scramble of people from atop an apartment building, life can seem empty and isolated.

Everyone in Heights is linked to everyone else in curious ways a la Six Degrees of Separation. At the center is Diana (Glenn Close, surprisingly hot as a brunette), who can best be described as a literal drama queen. We find her teaching a drama class as the movie opens. When two students give a lackluster reading of a “Macbeth” scene, wearing leather jackets and chewing gum (“Lady Macbeth” is carrying a pistol, apparently in order to “up the stakes”), Diana admonishes, “Oh for god sake, take a risk once in awhile!” Although encouraging others to burst out of their shells, Diana is actually trapped within one of her own making: an “open marriage” that threatens to destroy her offstage life. Even as she herself chases other men, the sight of her husband falling in love with another woman right in front of her is too much to handle. Diana meets Alec (a disheveled Jesse Bradford) when he auditions for one of her plays in a scene that had me humming, “Coo coo coo choo Mrs. Robinson” although it contained none of the playful glee seen in The Graduate. Alec schleps his way through the story in unexpected, ultimately contrived ways.

Diana’s daughter Isabel (Elizabeth Banks) feels that her mother’s destructive behavior epitomizes everything she abhors in life. Isabel, a svelte blonde photographer, is engaged to Jonathon (James Marsden), a former model-turned-hotshot lawyer. Their upcoming union could not be more perfect—perfectly unhappy, that is. Neither of them really wants to be married, but only one of them knows why. This undercurrent of discontent provides the main thrust of the story, a kind of mystery that is best left for you to discover. Other minor characters, including a good-natured rabbi (played by George Segal, too jarringly familiar from his erstwhile role on television’s 1997 fashion-magazine sitcom Just Shoot Me), a nervous reporter, and a sunny Australian artist named Ian who “gives chimneys life” by painting googly-eyes and putting top hats on them, appear throughout.

If you just read the character descriptions and have determined that Ian the chimney artist is the only person you would be even vaguely interested in inviting to dinner, then I’m with you completely. Ian, who is introduced tragically late into the narrative, teaches Isabel a thing or two about life. He provides the only oasis of spontaneity and fun in an urban desert of beautiful, self-absorbed people who don’t know what they have and furthermore, don’t care. Intentionally or not, the dialogue in Heights often calls direct attention to the very traits that make these characters yawningly unlikable. Diana comments that Jonathon is “square-jawed and very serious looking;” Ian calls Isabel a “typical New York gal,” one who is asked bluntly, “Don’t you have your own damn life?” after intrusively photographing a woman and her child on the subway. I found myself asking the very same question.

The only other person besides Ian who might be worth chatting with is Diana, not in her “dramatic” moments, but in those times when she has come off the stage and into her lonely existence. During her offstage scenes we often see her isolated, behind a door or against a wall, purposefully cutting herself off from others just long enough to let her carefully crafted theatrical mask slip. Glenn Close’s stellar acting is matched by close, claustrophobic camera work that mirrors her inner turmoil. Diana’s birthday party, the focus of the action for the last third of the film, is also an effective illustration of her loneliness: she is surrounded by a circle of quasi-intimates, yet she draws no warmth from any of them save Isabel, with whom she has a tense but touchingly close relationship. While definitely cliché, the irony of crowded desolation is undeniably effective.

Other artistic choices were not nearly so successful. For example, upon the introduction of each new character, a black screen appears with that characters’ name in white: DIANA, ALEC, IAN, you get the idea. But why the distracting titles? Since every character is connected in the first place, no distinct vignettes pertaining to specific characters follow the interposed titles. Had Jonathon been given a scene where he rescued a puppy or something before becoming a brooding bore among fellow bores, it might have inspired me to care a bit more. It was only during the end credits when I discovered that Heights had been adapted from a stage play. Perhaps these titles were a holdover from the original production. Whatever the case, they created a stagey and self-conscious atmosphere, like an overeager young director holding up signs to denote “important” moments in his own play. The idea that “all the world’s a stage, all men merely players” may in fact have been the point, but it just made me scratch my head. Also, although the story supposedly takes place over one day, I had absolutely no sense of how much time had passed. Either this aspect didn’t matter very much to the director or I simply was not paying close enough attention. Neither of these possibilities is very encouraging.

Heights is a Woody Allen movie extract without an ounce of verve or playful cynicism, a story about New York that is indifferent to the city and its inhabitants. Exciting actors are playing boring characters while a new director cuts his teeth on old material.

Terrio appears to be a promising young filmmaker, no doubt capable of crafting a better movie as long as he has deeper material to work with. I hope that in his next picture, Terrio reaches the heights to which he aspires.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=11256&reviewer=406
originally posted: 07/27/05 09:02:53
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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
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  17-Jun-2005 (R)
  DVD: 01-Nov-2005

UK
  N/A

Australia
  22-Sep-2005




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