“Heights” was one of the dozens of American indies tossed into art houses in 2005, where the picture sank without a trace. Even devoted movie buffs give a blank stare when the film is mentioned.
Director Chris Terrio’s debut is a sharp and well-acted portrait of Manhattan arts lifestyles.
The picture was made under the auspices of Merchant Ivory productions — famed for their genteel period pieces — and the young filmmaker clearly had enough funding to give the movie first-rate camera work and production design. But, Terrio also had a fine script (a collaboration with playwright Amy Fox) with which he was able to attract a strong ensemble of stars (Glenn Close), rising actors (Jesse Bradford, Elizabeth Banks – above and below), old-timers (George Segal) and real Manhattan artists (Rufus Wainright).
The movie is an episodic affair, centered on a New York stage and film star (Close) who is rehearsing a Broadway production of “Macbeth” while trying to convince her photographer daughter (Banks) to postpone — or even cancel — her forthcoming marriage to a handsome lawyer (James Marsden).
Other people enter the mix — a Brit journalist (John Light) in town to do a Vanity Fair story on a famous gay photographer who has slept with most of his models; an ex-lover of the Banks character (played by Matt Davis) who tries to lure her away from her fiance with a prestigious photo assignment in Eastern Europe; a young actor (Bradford) who is up for a role in a play that the famous actress plans to direct and who happens to live in the same apartment building as her daughter.
The drama and the fun in the movie derives from the unexpected collisions between these people and the surprising turns their lives take in one 24-hour period. “In this city there are only two degrees of separation,” the Close character says of the sometimes oddly small-town quality of life in Manhattan.
Most of the movie rings true and Close’s performance is one of her very best. “Heights” starts off with a real flourish, with the actress holding court at a master class at Juilliard, dressing down two ambitious students who decide to do a modern, “Sopranos”-style take on their Shakespeare scene.
The picture holds up well on television and should be added to your Netflix or Amazon lists if — like nearly everyone else — you missed it eight years ago.
Terrio’s profile was raised earlier this year when he won the Oscar for best adapted screenplay for his work on Ben Affleck’s “Argo.”