Let me begin this blog by saying that this will probably be harsher than Heights deserves. There are redeeming qualities in this film, and I can even fathom the argument that this is a good film. But you won’t read that here.
Heights is a NYC-set drama with intersecting characters. Is an “intersecting drama” a genre? Maybe it deserves to be. There are so damn many of these films that I know what tone and emotion to expect before I even begin. What makes some of the earlier intersecting and/or non-linear narratives more successful than others? I’m thinking of Kubrick’s The Killing or Inarritu’s Amores Perros (plenty of other great examples in here). For starters, the individual characters are better written in those films, and the story arc is generally more interesting. It’s also the newness of the technique. A film like Heights seems to take pride in its intersection as though it’s some great accomplishment. In fact (see the split-screens) there’s a very deliberate attempt by Terrio to point us to this fact. But it doesn’t add anything to the narrative. Both Inarritu’s and Kubrick’s films plays with their non-linearity in reinforcing the inevitability of fate, appropriate particularly in the latter and in hindsight for its late-noir status.
The split-screen brings up the overall technique of the film, which I really hated. Useless split screens aside, two other devices pop up: intertitles announcing character(s) and the use of fades for dramatic effect (at the end). The former is specifically irritating. Terrio seems to want to “bookify” this film and to add a signature stamp. In fact, they interrupt the flow of the film, add little, and feel pretentious. When the final title “Ian” comes on, as though he is separate from everyone else and a saving grace for Elizabeth Banks’ Isabel character, and as though his title is the literal realization of a new chapter (read: a new chapter in her life) I wanted to shoot the screen.
The score in this film sucks. It’s full of “mickey mousing” and wants to be more atmospheric than it is. It’s also omni-present and tries to force mood when there is none visually or narratively.
I’ll keep rambling here with some SPOILERS: Jonathan (James Marsden, in an excellent turn) and Alec (Jesse Bradford) finally confront one another at the end of the film following the reveal (a nice reveal, in fact) that Jonathan has been cheating on his fiance Isabel with Alec, who happens to live above them. Jilted and shattered Isabel takes to the subway and Jonathan decides to take things to new heights (see what I did there?) by climbing the stairs (two in a row!) and raising Alec’s hopes anew (forced, but works for a third).
Can you believe – because I sure as hell could not – that they begin by reintroducing themselves? Who is writing this? This is the most dishonest moment in a film that makes the viewer painfully aware that it is also aware of all movie cliches. It resorts to one of the worst cliches out there. The next time I want to patch up any relationship. Anything. Something small. Maybe I forgot to tip my waitress. I’m going to go up to her, stare her sincerely in the eyes, extend my meaningful hand, and say “Neal.” She’ll obviously understand the game, lock the gaze, take my hand in hers and return with her name. I think she’ll say “Edna.” Relationship beginning afresh, Edna and I will live a long and healthy life, full of excursions to our local WalMart and repeat viewings of Heights.
Another SPOILER here: The character Ian actually sums up what I really hate about this film. Right before he gets stabbed (what?) he tells Isabel why she is “one of those New York girls.” She never asked him his name. She’s a photographer. She probably knows the literary origin of her own name, etc etc. Well I don’t like this movie because he’s one of those “fearless witty film characters.” Because Isabel is one of those “crisis-stricken New York film characters.” Because Glenn Close (in what might be the worst turn of her career) is one of those “actors acting in a film characters.” Because every damn person in here has at least eight points in the film where they pause in deep reflection. Because when they are pausing in deep reflection the score is really hiking up the atmosphere. Because when they are pausing in deep reflection I minimized the screen on my laptop and checked to see if the Phillies were actually pursuing Michael Young or if that was just a rumor.