Heights is one of those bad movies that, if it werent so maudlin, might qualify as a guilty pleasure. Covering 24 hours in the life of a group of New York artistes, the cast of characters are the sort of hollowed-out types that used to populate high-minded Italian films of nearly half a century ago: economically well-off and desperate for some genuine feeling. You can find them haunting sidewalk cafes, drinking lattes out of cups nearly as big as their heads.
The central character in this web of bad relationships is Diana (Glenn Close), a famous actress currently rehearsing the role of Lady Macbeth. She urges the students in her acting class to take risks, to be passionate and spontaneous. Its the usual yada-yada, and a cover for how miserable she is in her own risky life, especially her open marriage. She and her husband have a habit of screwing the young talent in their plays, but its starting to take its toll. Diana is at that certain age where shes discovering that La Dolce Vita isnt all its cracked up to be.
The other sufferers are Dianas daughter Isabel (Elizabeth Banks) and her fiance Jonathan (James Marsden). Jonathan has a dark secret: He once posed nude for a famously homosexual photographer and might have had an affair with him. This hardly seems shocking in the context of a story where at least half the characters are gay, but screenwriter Amy Fox (adapting her own play) gets a lot of dramaturgical mileage out of just how deceptive Jonathan may have been toward Isabel and whether he may still lead a double life. In any event, theres a manly Welshman waiting in the wings to take the fatally indecisive Jonathans place.
Theres a cheerless preciousness about all this that might have played better on the stage, where a certain type of exaggerated seriousness can be quite effective. But on film it all seems hermetic, airless and trite, and just not quite bad enough to be a keeper.
Showing at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-263-2111).
Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].