Release Date: 26th of September 2014
Running Time: 111 Minutes
Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson, John Cusack, Evan Bird
An excoriating examination of fame and celebrity in Hollywood with a thick seam of coal black comedy; Maps to the Stars is the first time Canadian director David Cronenberg has ever filmed in Hollywood. After this feverish, operatic and savage critique of the place, it’d be a surprise if they ever let him back in. This is a dark and disturbing look at the toxic fallout of lala land where people are commodified and idolised, chewed up and spat out. It’s also scabrously funny, luridly entertaining and one of the best films of the year.
After the massive success of teen comedy Bad Babysitter, thirteen year old child actor Benjie Weiss (Bird) is a star. He is also a recovering addict with a drug problem that stretches back to when he was only nine. His father Stafford (Cusack) is a creepy New Age quack whose therapy sessions are a sinister blend of psychiatry, hypnosis and massage. Havana Segrand (Moore) is a fading superstar living an isolated existence up in the Hollywood hills and is one of Stafford’s clients. A former child performer herself, Havana’s relationship with her mother – a celebrated actress who died tragically young in a fire – is deeply troubled. Havana claims to have been sexually abused by her mother as a child but is obsessed with the possibility of starring in a remake of her most famous film. When a mysterious and badly burned young woman named Agatha (Wasikowska) arrives in LA, Havana is instantly drawn to her, employing her as a PA. As Benjie and Havana both start to unravel, dark secrets and ghosts from the past start to surface and something rotten in the state of California is revealed.
The inane, insipid and incestuous nature of Hollywood – where everyone knows everyone but only ever talks about themselves – is presented as some kind of crazed fever dream, where things seem to make sense but don’t quite add up. The sense of being inside an unwell headspace is heightened through Cronenberg’s direction, that takes great pains to isolate characters in the frame, separating them from everyone else. Characters are further disconnected from their surroundings and each other by being located in sterile, empty spaces that look like waiting rooms for fancy psychiatrists. The effect is unsettling, and as the lines between reality and fantasy become blurrier Maps to the Stars recalls the work of David Lynch, particularly Mulholland Dr. and its nightmarish vision of Tinsel Town.
There are some fantastic performances across the board; John Cusack is wonderfully loathsome, Olivia Williams is fantastically brittle and Mia Wasikowska manages to be as sinister as she is sweet, but particular notice must be given to Julianne Moore. In Moore’s hands Havana is a vulnerable, volatile, little girl trapped in the body of an aging Hollywood star. Her desperate need for fame and the validation she feels with it consumes her completely. It’s a showy performance but it’s pitched to perfection; her hysteria dominates the film without threatening to overwhelm it and her panicky self-loathing propel the film through some of its slower moments.
Dark, messed up and cynical, Maps to the Stars is comedy at its blackest and most vicious. There are a few missteps along the way, but if you follow this you’re sure to see something spectacular.