Chris Terrio’s Heights

Living in the northern hinterlands of Washington State, perhaps I’m more susceptible to luxuriantly photographed Manhattan fantasies about articulate, witty New Yorkers than most critics.

Heights, a feature debut by director Chris Terrio, celebrates its essential New York-ness as few other films have. Along with the screenwriter Amy Fox, the impressive cinematographer Jim Denault, and a flawless cast, Terrio tracks a day in the life of Isabel (played by Elizabeth Banks), a woman in her twenties, who balances her upcoming wedding to a handsome young attorney (James Marsden) with her struggle to establish a name for herself as a photographer. From the Chelsea flat that she and her fiancé share, to the Condé Nast building, to the theatre district of the Upper West Side, Heights has an irresistible site-specific authenticity.

The visual exhilaration of this movie encompasses a number of superbly executed split screen effects. In the best of these, a mother and daughter walk to meet each other while conversing on their cell phones. Diana (Glenn Close) strides on the left side of the frame; Isabel has the right half. The filmmakers use medium shots so that you can see the entire person—no talking heads here—as well as the city sidewalks behind her. At one point, the women come within sight, and with the screens still split, they walk toward each other until, moving from the right, the two letter-boxed screens elide seamlessly into a full width single frame again. The split screen device, in the hands of Terrio and the film’s editor Sloane Klevin, conveys laconically what mere cuts wouldn’t, and it fuses content with form aesthetically, pleasurably.

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Heights, however, might not be quite as delicious if it weren’t so impeccably cast. As Diana Lee, a star of stage and screen, Close plays off our sense of her as an icon. Continue reading “Chris Terrio’s Heights

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