MAPS TO THE STARS. Starring Julianne, Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, Evan Bird, Olivia Williams, Robert Pattinson, Sarah Gadon. Directed by David Cronenberg. 111 minutes. Rated MA (Strong sexual themes and sex scenes).
Canadian director, David Cronenberg, has had a significant career for over 40 years, one of Canada’s best and well-known directors. In his early years, Cronenberg made a number of small-budget horror films and has continued this trend over the decades. His dramas, like Dead Ringers, To Die For, Eastern Promises have been impressive, but always with the touch of something weird.
Maps to the Stars is not a horror film as such but there are some elements. This time it is the weird that predominates. It is Hollywood weird.
The Maps to the Stars are something that tourists want when they visit Los Angeles, indulging in the cult of celebrity, curious about the life of the Hollywood names, wanting to see how this other half lives. At the opening of the film, a young woman, Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) arrives by bus in LA, just like all those other hopefuls. We soon see that she is not like this. She is returning home, her face and parts of her body scarred by injuries in a fire. She initially makes the acquaintance of an actor-writer who moonlights as a limousine driver (Robert Pattinson).
We are introduced to quite a number of characters whose lives intertwine. A central focus is on Havana, an ageing star (Julianne Moore in a performance that won her the Best Actress in Cannes 2014) who is literally haunted by her mother challenging her and deciding whether she should do a role that her mother made famous. But, she is ageing, neurotic, narcissistic, self-indulgent, with the expected problems of sex and drugs. She employs Agatha and relies on her – until she become suspicious and gets rid of her.
One of the problems of this quite weird and ugly look at Hollywood is that none of the characters are sympathetic, even Agatha. One of the characters who shocks us is a 13-year-old actor, Benjie (Evan Bird) far too precocious for his age, already indulging in the LA lifestyle, making a sequel to his successful film, Bad Babysitter. He acts like some of the role models that he sees around him, and is consumed by jealousy of the little boy who plays the child that his character babysits, with some dire results.
And then, there are his parents. His mother (Olivia Williams) is his manager, one of those highly controlling mothers but one who is smart concerning financing and contracts but who is quite emotionally unstable. Her very unlikeable husband, a TV personality and author, is played as a really awful man by John Cusack.
While the film is very well-crafted, one begins to wonder about spending time with these unpleasant, sometimes vicious characters. But Cronenberg, the Canadian outsider to the US, is continuing in the tradition of films that take us inside Hollywood, for example Sunset Boulevard, The Player, immersing us in what we hope is a heightened and exaggerated look but which, over the decades, we realise is in many ways truthful.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Released 20th November 2014.