Heights explores the interlocking lives of various New Yorkers over 24 hours. Famous actress Diana (Glenn Close) finds out that her husband has a serious new girlfriend (her understudy), which rocks her idea of their open marriage. Her photographer daughter, Isabel (Elizabeth Banks), is feeling doubtful about her upcoming marriage to lawyer Jonathan (James Marsden). All three characters intersect with Alec (Jesse Bradford), an aspiring actor, and Peter (John Light), a journalist researching the former lovers of an eminent, difficult Don Juan of a photographer for a retrospective book.
Written and directed by 28-year-old Chris Terrio, this is an ambitious, intriguing study of the pursuit of love and desire in the complexly teeming shoals of Manhattan. This emotional jigsaw puzzle is cannily constructed, but could have used some tightening up, especially in its climactic sequences. Also, Terrio's dialogue, while mordantly witty in the initial scenes establishing his characters, gets increasingly flatter as the dramatic ante mounts. The viewer is placed in the unique position of accepting, and even empathizing with, the characters' situations, while rejecting the jejune banalities emitting from their mouths. There are also far too many spoken quotations from Shakespeare and other poets, as if mere words fail at fraught moments.
What Terrio accurately presents is that Big City aura of manically driven souls whose love entanglements somehow become inextricably linked with their career ambitions. Everyone is on the hustle, everything comes with a price tag. His large, fluent cast rewards him with a rich gallery of performances, as well, one suspects, with individual improvisatory inspirations which deepen their characters. Close, although unappetizingly made up in a raven coiffure, is the flamboyant standout in a very Margo Channing/All About Eve role. (At one point, she even dismisses her romantic rival with the name "Eve Harrington.") She's very funny trying to instill some semblance of passion into the bereft, Starbucks-swamped souls enrolled in the acting class she teaches, and amusingly horny as she aggressively eyes a comely stagehand (before being told he's gay). It's only in the heavier sequences that the material rather lets her down. (There's just so much any actress can do with mournful close-ups and lofty quotations, in lieu of really strong dramatic business or lines.)
Marsden feverishly captures the conflicted desperation of his character, while Bradford is cherubically perfect as the young type of actor opportunist not averse to sleeping with either superstar or next-door neighbor if it suits his immediate purposes. (When an intrigued Diana pronounces him "adorable," one can heartily concur.) Banks is good, too, if a tad bland. A raft of Manhattan bold-faced names-George Segal, Isabella Rossellini, Eric Bogosian, Michael Murphy, Denis O'Hare-lend flavorful authenticity, while singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright contributes an amusing, bitchily accurate portrait set in that gayest of New York Chelsea locales, the Big Cup café.