Heights

I have given suck, and know

How tender `tis to love the babe that milks me;

I would, while it was smiling in my face,

Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums,

And dashed the brains out, had I so sworn as you

Have done to this.

Macbeth, William Shakespeare

Evil, indeed, is Lady Macbeth. Theater megastar and Oscar-winner Diana (Glenn Close) spits out the verse from Shakespeare as she teaches a master class. Words of such power don’t require over-the-top emoting, but Diana is a ham, and, not unlike Lady Macbeth, she’s domineering and manipulative in her private life. She’s not beyond attempting to lure an attractive actor, Alec (Jesse Bradford), young enough to be her son, with bribes of connections for career advancement. (Even when not acting, Diana is a drama queen: "We are not fiery people! We are tepid voyeurs! We are tap water! We have forgotten passion!" Close, rarely one to underplay, is perfectly cast as the ham. She, herself, has never won an Oscar.)

It turns out Diana is married and in an open relationship with her husband. But when her husband carries on an affair with her understudy, Diana is genuinely disturbed–despite the liberal arrangement and her own flirtations, she can’t handle it. The double standard is in full force as she squawks about this "Eve Harrington." Welcome to the treacherous crosscurrents and undertows of modern relationships. Heights, a debut effort by director Chris Terrio, based on a play by Amy Fox, explores not only the fluidity of relationships, but also ambiguities of gender and sexuality. It’s an ambitious theme.

Others in the roster of the confused are Diana’s daughter, Isabel (Elizabeth Banks), a photographer who is engaged to Jonathan (James Marsden), a not-very-Jewish lawyer. When, early on, Isabel and Jonathan are found to be lying to each other about cigarette smoking, it isn’t hard to project the course of this engagement. Lingering in the background is Peter (John Light), who is writing a feature for Vanity Fair to accompany homoerotic photographs by his lover, Benjamin Stone. Jonathan seems terrified of Peter; will anyone in the audience fail to figure out the implications? Some fine actors are wasted in cameo roles: George Segal as Jonathan’s rabbi, Isabella Rossellini as a magazine editor, and others.

Placed in New York, Terrio uses stock shots of the city as fillers, but achieves little sense of the physical place. He does successfully depict the nervous tension of a place where everyone is constantly on edge about careers, position and relationships. Had he focused on fewer characters and developed them in greater depth, Heights might have risen above the ordinary. Instead, it is weighted down by a plot-heavy and predictable narrative, heavily dependent upon coincidence, and the film, after a promising beginning slowly sinks into a mire of uninteresting soapiness.

Arthur Lazere

San Francisco, CA
Mr. Lazere founded culturevulture.net in 1998 and worked tirelessly to promote its potential as a means for communicating a distinctly personal yet wide-ranging selection of arts reviews. Under his leadership, the site grew in esteem as well as in “circulation", and is well-regarded nationally and internationally as a source for up-to-date, well-written criticism. Arthur passed away on September 30, 2006.