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By Jeremy Mathews | June 18, 2005

The earnest personal drama always risks straying from its its stabs at meaning with all-too-familiar revelations and character types. But the genre receives honest and touching treatment in “Heights,” an ensemble drama revolving around several loosely connected people in New York City.

In her best performance of three Sundance 2005 movies, Glenn Close stands out as a legendary actress who lectures at Juilliard about how it is hard to pull off Shakespeare in this modern age when passion has disappeared. She’s currently playing Lady MacBeth (this might be symbolic) and suspects her husband, a fellow actor, of having an affair with another cast member. She doesn’t appear to have a history of monogamy herself, however, and is currently flirting with young Alec (Jesse Bradford), a struggling actor who auditions for a role in the play she’s directing.

Alec lives in the same building as Diana’s daughter, Isabel (Elizabeth Banks), who plans to marry Jonathan (James Marsden). Meanwhile, a journalist named Peter (John Light) goes through hell as he interviews the angry and jilted lovers of Benjamin, a famed playboy photographer who got the gig because he happens to be Peter’s lover. He leaves messages for Jonathan to ask about his relationship with Benjamin, placing question on the engagement’s happy facade. Isabel is trying to make it as a photographer, and receives help from a former high school lover who works at New York Times Magazine. While he helps, however, he urges her to call off the marriage because he can’t get over her.

Screenwriter Amy Fox, who expanded her 30-minute play of the same name into a feature film at the request of Merchant Ivory, shows a talent for creating multidimensional characters with both clear and intriguing motivations. The backgrounds and connections are gradually revealed to build interest and place the actions in new contexts. Director Chris Terrio confidently delivers a solid first feature, but sometimes doesn’t always engage in the characters’ inner demons, which could have made an even better film given the cast and material.

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