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Heights

Life throws a famous actress some last minute rewrites in "Heights," an entertaining ensembler marbled with wit and heartache. Chris Terrio's surehanded helming debut intelligently deploys a distinctive cast whose sharply limned characters undergo major changes in an eventful 24-hour period.

Life throws a famous actress some last minute rewrites in “Heights,” an entertaining ensembler marbled with wit and heartache. Chris Terrio’s surehanded helming debut intelligently deploys a distinctive cast whose sharply limned characters undergo major changes in an eventful 24-hour period. Urban auds should respond to Manhattan-set drama’s overlapping intrigue, although anyone resistant to the notion that all the world’s a stage is unlikely to be part of pic’s core constituency.

Script’s confident literary structure (based on the stage play by Amy Fox) facilitates emotional involvement while sustaining an aura of secrecy until the final reel. On-screen chapter headings announce each character or combination of characters, starting with “Diana.”

Diana Lee (Glenn Close) is an Oscar-anointed, New York-based stage and screen actress who gives master classes at Juilliard and gets stopped in the street for autographs. Her daughter, Isabel (Elizabeth Banks), a photographer, is soon to marry her handsome fiance, Jonathan (James Marsden), an attorney. He’s Jewish, she’s not and Rabbi Mendel (George Segal) wants to discuss the fine points of their imminent union.

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Struggling actor Alec (Jesse Bradford) auditions for a play Diana will direct. She takes an instant shine to the young man, who seems overwhelmed by the sudden opportunity to move from shoestring fringe productions to the certified bigtime.

Suspecting her husband has embarked on a new affair, Diana semi-consoles herself by inviting Alec to the party she’s throwing that night to celebrate her birthday among Manhattan’s movers and shakers.

Meanwhile, British writer Peter (John Light) arrives from London to do research for a Vanity Fair article. It’s timed to accompany a forthcoming show of nudes by a notorious world-class photographer.

Marshaling energy and humor, Terrio weaves a lean yet elaborate portrait of the always accelerated, high-stakes pace of life in Manhattan where the competition’s fierce for rewarding work but it may still be easier to find than a suitable mate. Cocktail chatter at Diana’s big bash includes some wry digs at what passes for a worthy artistic concept in rarefied circles. Pic excels at depicting the need for flawless decision-making skills in the unforgiving career cauldron of New York.

Film also delves into what it means to live life rather than observe it, and examines many of the shades of gray between being less-than-honest and completely devious. And, it comfortably piles on encounters and revelations that would seem contrived were they any less deftly presented.

Close personifies a brand of imperious vulnerability that’s a refreshing spin on the old saw that it’s lonely at the top. Thesping is quite fine across the board.

D.P. Jim Denault’s location lensing and the occasional use of split screen ably capture the tension and topography of the city from day to dusk and night through dawn.

Heights

  • Production: A Sony Pictures Classics release of a Merchant Ivory Prods. presentation. Produced by Ismail Merchant, Richard Hawley. Executive producer, Paul Bradley. Directed by Chris Terrio. Screenplay, Amy Fox, based on her stage play "Heights"; additional material, Terrio.
  • Crew: Camera (color), Jim Denault; editor, Sloane Klevin; music, Martin Erskine, Ben Butler; production designer, Marla Weinhoff; art director, Diane Lederman; set decoration, Lederman; costume designer, Marina Draghici; sound (Dolby), Thomas Varga; associate producer, Pierre Proner; assistant director, Thomas Fatone; casting, James Calleri. Reviewed at Elysees-Biarritz screening room, Paris, Jan. 6, 2005. (In Sundance Film Festival -- Premieres.) Running time: 96 MIN.
  • With: <b>With:</b> Glenn Close, Elizabeth Banks, James Marsden, Jesse Bradford, Eric Bogosian, Matt Davis, Andrew Howard, Thomas Lennon, John Light, Susan Malick, Michael Murphy, Denis O'Hare, Isabella Rossellini, George Segal, Rufus Wainwright.
  • Music By: