‘Maps To The Stars’ Movie Review: David Cronenberg’s Film About Toxic Hollywood Amuses And Horrifies
Maps To The Stars, the latest feature from filmmaker David Cronenberg, takes a cynical look at Hollywood and the rising and falling stars at the hub of the movie industry.
Maps To The Stars Movie Review
At the epicenter of Maps to the Stars is the Weiss family. The father Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack) is a prolific self-help guru. The teenage son Benjie (Evan Bird) is the silver screen cash cow. The mother Christina (Olivia Williams) is his manager. And their daughter Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) is a liability that’s been shipped away. The events that unfold in the film are set into motion when she gets released from the institution in which her family placed her and returns to the hills of Los Angeles, meeting an aspiring actor and limo driver Jerome (Robert Pattinson), and getting a job as fading actress Havana Segrand’s (Julianne Moore) personal assistant through her online friendship with Carrie Fisher.
While Havana tries in vain to capture the fame she never truly had, Benjie is trying to hold onto his after a stint in rehab at 13. Cronenberg pokes gentle fun at the Hollywood machine’s tendency to recycle old stories and turn every high-earning movie into a tent pole, as Benjie is reprising his role in Bad Babysitter 2. Some of the best scenes with Benjie take place around fellow young actors, whose views on aging can be surmised in one line: “She’s 23. She’s basically menopausal.”
Benjie’s stint in rehab followed a particularly traumatizing event, which involved his sister Agatha and included some fire and allusions to incest. The relationship between the two proves to be the most interesting in the movie, as their reunion forces them to flesh out what the event so many years ago meant to them – and to their parents. As it turns out, they’re not only bonded by the experience, but by the affliction that caused it to happen.
Moore, who recently won an Oscar for her performance as a woman suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s, embodies the shallow archetype of a mediocre middle-aged actress living in her late mother’s shadow, who is hoping to rid herself of her demons by taking on a role her mother once played in yet another Hollywood reboot. Playing the desperate fading ingénue, Moore verges on caricature, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing in this movie, as her Lindsay Lohan-esque manner of speaking earns plenty of laughs. Some stars, as Cronenberg is likely trying to point out, do become caricatures of themselves.
Pattinson’s Jerome is tangential to the story, and is, at most, a view of another kind of actor: the actor who is a waiter or a workout instructor or, in this case, a limo driver. It’s uncertain if he has the chops to make it, as Cronenberg only gives a glimpse of him in alien makeup. Pattinson does fine in the part, but his performance is overshadowed by the others, including Wasikowska’s. Wasikowska, playing the returning daughter that comes in like a curse that sets everyone’s lives off-kilter, seems perfectly at home in Cronenberg’s Hollywood.
Cronenberg’s sharp critique of Hollywood narcissism plays like a pitch black comedy that pushes the limit of the blackness into horror film territory. For example, high on drugs after breaking his sobriety because of a scene-stealing tyke on set, Benjie picks up a gun that he thinks is rid of bullets. After pulling the trigger while pointing it at this own head and at his friend’s, he aims it at a dog. He puts a bullet in the family pet, and blood soaks the dead animal’s white fur and the white plush carpet. And that, in Maps to the Stars, is one of the milder gruesome scenes. Despite the gore and the despair throughout, Maps to the Stars is as funny as a meditation on the pervasive self-centeredness of the film industry in a Hollywood feature film can be.