There are two tricks to making a successful (as opposed to merely functional) film in the mode of Robert Altman's criss-crossed-lives magnum opus Short Cuts: 1) Make sure the world in which your sprawling cast lives overlapping lives doesn't feel like a writer-contrived ant farm in which they have no choice but to run into one another, and 2) Make sure those overlapping lives are interesting in their own right, and not just because they overlap. Heights director Chris Terrio adapts Amy Fox's play with flashes of wit, moments of insight, and some fine performances. But Heights' characters move along such preordained paths and perform such familiar movie actions that they might as well sport antennae.
Too long removed from such a meaty role, Glenn Close gives the piece its center, playing a legendary actor currently packing Broadway with her turn as Lady Macbeth. She opens the film with a monologue about passion and its absence from everyday life, but the film contends that passion has merely gone underground. Heights' action unfolds in a New York where people dwell on what they're supposed to want instead of talking about what they really want. As Close's daughter, Elizabeth Banks plays a woman about to give up—or at least scale back—her photography career for a marriage to James Marsden, a lawyer with secret passions of his own. They share an apartment building with Jesse Bradford, an actor who's reluctant to be taken under Close's wing, perhaps out of loyalty to his Off-Broadway pals, perhaps for other reasons.
And so on down the line. Any suspense comes not from the characters' hidden connections, but from waiting for those connections to surface. When they do, they're not particularly surprising; every one of Heights' characters and situations feels imported from another movie. As good as Close is in her larger-than-life Grand Dame role, she's still more a type than a character. That doesn't entirely spoil the drama—careful lead performances, Terrio's sleek (though overstylized) direction, and some colorful supporting turns from Eric Bogosian, George Segal, and Rufus Wainwright all lift Heights above mediocrity. But if there's a point beyond one character's observation that it's a "small fucking world," it remains elusive.