Spoiler alert: the romantic ending of "Heights" is breathtakingly perfect.
It all takes place in one day. In Manhattan. In some not so shabby places: the back stage of a Broadway theater, the offices of the New York Times and Vanity Fair, slickly designed galleries, rooftops of expensive apartments building dazzlingly lit by the New York skyline. Everybody in "Heights" is beautiful, successful, or surely on their way to being successful. Artistic. Gay. Straight. Or possibly gay. Certainly tormented. There is torment to go around.
It's easy enough to mock such a milieu. But that said: Chris Terrio's directorial debut, produced by the acclaimed Merchant/Ivory team, based on the play by Amy Fox, is an all-engrossing, moving film.
Elizabeth Banks, wonderfully natural in her first starring role, is the center of the ensemble drama. She plays Isabel, an up and coming photographer about to be married to a handsome, hot-shot lawyer (James Marsden). They are busy planning the wedding, meeting the rabbi (George Segal in a terrific supporting turn), but clearly they are unhappy, dissatisfied with not only their own lives but each other.
Isabel is the subdued offspring of a famous mother, uber diva actress Diana Lee, played by Glenn Close who appears to be playing herself, only revved up several notches. Her performance is riveting; Close looks fantastic, and watching her go feels almost like a naughty privilege, a sneak peak inside the lives of the rich and famous. The story takes place on her birthday, where like the infamous Mrs. Dalloway, Diana Lee is having a party.
Diana and Isabel's paths cross with Alec (Jesse Bradford), a struggling young actor, and Peter (John Light), a journalist doing a story on his lover, a famous photographer known for his sexual conquests. Throughout the day, the lives of these characters reveal themselves to be more and more inter-connected. New York City becomes a teeny tiny, incestuous universe in "Heights."
Because of the wonderful performances, beautiful cinematography, sharply written screenplay (also by playwright Fox), emphatic characters, and excellent direction, the smallness of "Heights" never seems small.