Saturday, December 1, 2007

Rants on "Heights"

Okay, so Chris Terrio's Heights is hardly what I would call a masterpiece: the plotting is overly-contrived, the directing is fairly one-note, the characters could have been drawn out a bit more and nearly everything else feels like it has been done before. But it did, however, have some really fine moments- namely every time Glenn Close appears on screen and a couple of scenes featuring James Marsden- that prevented it from a becoming an outright disaster.

The film starts off with some unimportant extras reciting a scene from some Shakespearian play with all the energy and talent of a hibernating bear before Diana (Glenn Close), drama teacher and widely-respected actress, bursts on the stage, admonishes them for not letting the words speak for themselves and then verbally accosts society for not being as mad as hell and not taking it anymore. The example she just happens to mention is finding out your significant other is having an affair and then just going on with your day, possibly crying, without really confronting the person. Now, was it just me, or did anyone else see from a mile away that Diana's husband was going to cheat on her somewhere over the course of the film and that she would react just like she told her students not to? I couldn't have been the only one.

The film then cuts to Isabel (Elizabeth Banks), who happens to be Diana's daughter, and Jonathan (James Marsden).

Well, good morning Mr. Marsden.

They are planning their upcoming wedding and, except for what could be interpreted as pre-wedding stress, they seem to be happy and comfortable together. But, as with many movies of this nature, we know that everything is not as it seems and a whole shit storm is about to errupt.

Two other subplots unfold later on: One involves Alec (Jesse Bradford, of Bring it On fame), a struggling actor who auditions for Diana's off-Broadway play. After monotonously reciting this ridiculous monologue that made Diana Scarwid's God-awful interpretation of Antigone in Mommie Dearest look impressive, Diana goes crazy for him and starts having a conversation with him. It turns out that, surprisingly, he lives a couple floors above Isabel and Jonathan and yet they had never met. Crazy, I know; that is some coincidence. But as I was watching this scene, I think the following shots explain what I was feeling.



Yes, Jesse Bradford is that dull in this role. Boy am I glad, however, that Glenn Close is there to liven everything up and show this kid what acting is all about. She runs circles around him and like the alpha dog, pees on Bradford to show him who's in charge. It's much like Meryl Streep's scenes in Rendition where, on separate occasions, she basically tells Jake Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard "Don't fuck with me fellas! I'm Meryl motherfucking Streep."

The other subplot involves a writer who has to write something about the models of his supposed photographer lover's male subjects. Apparently, they all think he's a prick and...yawn. I'm getting bored just writing it out. Let's just say that the only (loose) connection this plot has to this film is that Jonathan modeled for this photographer and possibly had a sexual affair with him when he was younger.

More shit goes down as the night progresses: Diana's husband is (shockingly!) having an affair and she (surprisingly!) cries and goes on with her day. Isabel's pesky wedding interferes with a potentially great opportunity. Jonathan responds to the author's calls and tells him that he is preventing the homoerotic photos of him from being displayed. Alec gives up the chance to go to Diana's party in order to meet with some mysterious lover about potentially ending the relationship or something.

There was this great scene where Isabel is going to return Alec's coat after he left it at Diana's theater and she puts the coat on. When Jonathan sees this, he goes a little insane/jealous and insists she take it off. Isabel taunts him and then he throws her against the wall and they have the most angry make out sessions I have since Brokeback Mountain and A History of Violence (coincidentally, all three movies were released in 2005). It might have led to equally angry sex, but Diana calls and leaves a message on the answering machine, cockblocking Jonathan to no avail.

The final scenes are where a lot of Heights' problems come out into the open. If you plan on seeing this movie, then you might not want to read this because there are a few spoilers (although if you don't give a shit, then, by all means, go ahead and keep going).

Remember that mysterious person that Alec was supposed to meet instead of going to Diana's party? Well, it turns out that it was Jonathan. And what do you know, they are having an affair together.



Marsden plays this scene wonderfully in a Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback I-need-you-or-I'm-going-to-die sort of way. But my problems with this revelation are this:
  • Why does Jonathan have to hide his homosexuality? He isn't ultra-religious or anything, he doesn't seem to be under the scrutiny of disapproving parents and this isn't 1950. I can see him maybe not dating because he's ashamed or whatever, but does he really have to fake a relationship with Isabel?
  • Why is Alec with this closet-case? Does he have that little self-confidence that he can't find a man who's not attached to a woman? From the brief glance we get into their relationship, it seems that a lot of their time together (which is only one night a week) is spent fighting about Jonathan's relationship with Isabel.
Of course, Isabel catches them in the act and wildly proclaims "Now I have a reason to leave" (or something to that affect). For some reason this phrase stuck with me and after thinking for awhile, I realized that it reminded me of that famous Pauline Kael essay "The-Come-Dressed-as-the-Sick-Soul-of-Europe Parties." There is this section in which she's discussing Antonioni's La Notte and how miserable the two leads are together and she wonders why, if they are so unhappy together, they remain together? Nothing is keeping them together. The same can be applied to Isabel and Jonathan. Isabel could have left long along if she was not happy instead of remaining with this "dead shark" (as Woody Allen put it).

And the ending where Alec takes back Jonathan really left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Alec was being such a, for lack of a better word, pussy by opening the door and basically saying "I am okay that I was the other woman all while you were with Isabel and now that she's dumped your ass, you're running back to me." There's no guarantee that this relationship will ever work (more likely than not it won't) but that glimmer of hope is annoying.

Overall, Heights is a decent enough movie with some first-rate acting from Close and, at times, Marsden, but too much of it is hampered by the weak script. And it's a shame, because a great film could have emerged from this beautiful mess.

My Rating: ** 1/2

4 comments:

Rural Juror said...

I didn't read that last part . . . because I have a desire to see this

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