Smothering Heights: Close Can’t Save Clumsy Melodrama


There’s always the danger of forgetting that the rich and gorgeous have problems from which their furniture can’t entirely save them. Merchant Ivory’s regular reminders work best as period films, where we can ogle those antiques like venal history scholars. Heights, unfortunately, happens now. This expansion of Amy Fox’s stage roundelay tracks Manhattan theater types, whose lives intertwine in ways that constant, pounding piano arpeggios let us know are very significant. Glenn Close is Diana Lee, a drama doyenne assaying Lady Macbeth while her husband boffs Lady Macduff. Her photographer daughter, Isabel (Elizabeth Banks), is soon to be married to Jewish lawyer Jonathan (the badly Ruffaloed James Marsden), who has a secret past and, oops, present too. Cracking faults in these relationships occasion overwrought suspense: slow ascents of dark stairs, heavy silences, and surplus brow furrowing.

As a journalist whose muckraking about his art world boyfriend stirs up old ghosts, John Light is frozen in a lugubrious scowl. Rufus Wainwright, as his bitchy interviewee, finds the camp escape hatch. As a Fringe Festival actor caught up in the couples’ tricky business, Jesse Bradford takes the respectable real-person route. But in this study of keeping up appearances while everything falls apart, the stakes never seem as high as the title suggests. At one point, Isabel tells an old flame that her fancy wedding will prevent her from accepting a dream Times Magazine assignment. “There are,” she laments, ”
string quartets!” And as Close, spouting an appreciably eccentric amount of situation-appropriate Shakespeare, recedes from the spotlight, we miss her greatly. One reviewer wrote, “This is the film I wanted Closer to be.” That’s funny, this is a film I wanted to be Closer. Or, at least Close-er.