Knight at the Movies ARCHIVES
New York Ennui, Bedeviled :
6-22-05 Knight at the Movies column
By Richard Knight, Jr.
Not one of the five intersecting characters that form the story of Heights, which is set in the hustle and flow of
creative New York, are happy with their lot in life. Yet this movie, a daisy chain of dissatisfaction where the
characters are only identified by their first names, is brimming with energy. Though the movie wends its way
through typical soap opera New York City ennui, it bustles along, darting from scene to scene and has a terrific,
fetching cast. During a crisp fall day this quintet acts out a Manhattan version of A Little Night Music, switching
partners or shuffling the deck in search of new prospects. These are successful New York creatives – constantly
hustling up new jobs, networking, pouring out their anxieties on their cell phones as they rush up and down the
noisy streets. Director Chris Terrio expertly captures the simultaneous yin and yang of these beautiful but riddled
with self doubt people. It’s a very assured debut for the 28 year-old director, a protégé of the late producer Ismail
Merchant (of Merchant-Ivory fame).
Glenn Close, her hair clipped in a black pageboy, heads the cast as famed actress Diana who’s trapped in an
unhappy “open” marriage. It’s a glorious performance (reason enough to see the movie) in which Close, whose
personal life surely shares aspects with Diana, shades this vain, overbearing Diva with instances of genuine pathos
and humor. One moment Close is enthralling as she enacts bits of Lady Macbeth, the next funny when she tersely
spits out about her husband’s latest conquest, “She’s my goddamned understudy – fucking Eve Harrington!”
Elizabeth Banks, who plays Diana’s daughter Isabel, is a blond photocopy of Parker Posey, hates her dead end
wedding photography job, longs for some creative photojournalism assignments and seems uneasy about her
upcoming nuptials to the impossibly handsome Jonathan (James Marsden). But that doesn’t mean that she wants
advice from her much married mother and the tense conversations between the two are very realistic.
Then there’s Alec (Jesse Bradford), a shaggy looking actor desperately trying to get out of the fringe festival
circuit who has the audition of a lifetime for Diana but is oddly unresponsive to her aggressive sexual overtures.
Finally there is Peter (John Light) a journalist who’s on assignment for Vanity Fair to profile legendary
photographer Benjamin Stone. Peter is trying to track down the unseen Stone’s large list of former male lovers
and nude models to interview in time for an upcoming retrospective.
It’s Peter who sets what little plot there is in motion. Stone, apparently, is the ultimate S.O.B., “the second coming
of Satan,” and has made meticulous notes on his lovers including one he labeled the “heartbreaker.” As Peter
tracks down the lovers one by one, secrets are unearthed and lives are permanently changed. It’s one of those
melodramatic movies with artfully composed shots and wailing, wistful, solo electric guitar music on the
soundtrack both emphasizing the loneliness of the Big City.
But Heights is also shot through with gay references, characters and subplots and reminded me of my long held
conviction that it’s New York, not San Francisco, that is Homo Central. Gay men are everywhere here, either front
and center, or filtered into the background of almost every scene. This might be the gayest non-gay movie ever as
everyone seems to be overtly or subconsciously concerned with who’s gay, who’s not gay, who’s turning gay, who
used to be gay, and who might be gay.
Terrio has his camera busy darting throughout the city (it’s a love letter not just to New York gays but to New York
locations) and has populated his movie with a dream supporting cast (many who appear in just one scene).
George Segal, Isabella Rossellini, Eric Bogosian, Denis O’Hare and Michael Murphy are among them. Rufus
Wainwright, funny, bitter and droll as one of Stone’s former lovers, is a standout.
Heights, which spends a lot of time focused on gay sexuality and its continued importance in the creative world of
New York, was the last production from Ismail Merchant. Merchant, who apparently was the lifetime partner of
James Ivory, had that bit of information cropped from most of his obituaries – including, ironically, the one that
appeared in the New York Times.
Nicole Kidman is not Meg Ryan and Will Ferrell is not Tom Hanks and writer-director Nora Ephron seems lost at sea
without her two perennial stars in her flabby, unfunny movie version of Bewitched. After all the horrible movie
incarnations of TV sitcoms, Ephron’s idea (along with her sister Delia’s, they co-wrote the script) to have an
egomaniacal, failing movie star, Jack Wyatt (Ferrell) agree to co-star in a remake of “Bewitched,” now focused on
the character of Darren seems a good one at first. Ephron gets a few laughs out of the over the top narcissism of
Wyatt’s demands but the movie’s decision to cast Isabel (Kidman), a real life witch, as the made up Samantha
doesn’t pan out and the movie takes a nosedive from which it never recovers.
It’s not Kidman’s fault – she’s given absolutely no character to play other than a fuzzy, dumb blonde who for some
reason wants to give up her witchcraft ways. We’re also meant to believe that this ditz would fall madly for the
charms of the insufferable Wyatt, who seems an extension of Ferrell’s Anchorman character. When Isabel finds
she has been ill used by Wyatt and turns to revenge it’s only an excuse for some momentary special effects and
soon we’re back, shambling along in tried and true Ephron territory – with a Sinatra standard on the soundtrack
(“Witchcraft,” natch) over a cutsey-poo, falling in love montage. Though the chemistry between Kidman and
Ferrell is slightly higher than Kidman and Matthew Broderick in last year’s The Stepford Wives, this is saying very
Support is given by an ill-used Michael Caine as Isabel’s droll, real life father while Shirley MacLaine is enlisted to
portray an over the hill actress playing Endora. It appears that MacLaine might also be a real life witch though
she's clearly not Isabel’s real life witch mother but this subplot is allowed to fritter away. Confused? There’s
more. Carole Shelley, who has made a name for herself playing a witch in the musical “Wicked,” plays Aunt Clara
and has been directed to imitate Marion Loring, the character actress from the original TV series while the actor
who plays the character of Uncle Arthur apes Paul Lynde (badly) and is apparently written so that he’s playing
Isabel’s real life Uncle Arthur and is not a TV character.
I had a headache halfway through the movie that no tinka-tinka-tee nose twitch could fix and thought to myself,
“Gee, maybe those Salem witch trials had the right idea.” The movie’s biggest bright spot comes when Isabel,
prepping for her part as Samantha, watches clips of Elizabeth Montgomery and cast in action from the old TV
series. I rushed home to watch my new DVD set (just out from Sony) of Season One (in glorious black and white)
and I am happy to report that it took just one episode of the one and only Bewitched to put a love spell on me.
Glad to be Unhappy, a Big Ole Mess and the real magic