‘Maps to the Stars’ Review
David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars is the epitome of a film that is inspiring because of the amazing standards that the filmmaking elements are produced to, yet it is a film that takes a lot to really enjoy while encouraging a desire to watch it again. The performances are amazing, the characters unnervingly real in their development, and the story makes us cringe with the incredibly disturbing feel, ringing bells of a Page 9 story in the LA Times. The whole produced piece is a brilliant look into the incestuous world of Hollywood and its stars, a commentary on the massively glossed over, sparkle painted world we desperately want to know because of how it’s portrayed. However, underneath this glittering surface lies a community of falsities and fantasy that we would barely recognize as belonging to our own world. Without becoming a film theory essay, the easiest way to describe Maps to the Stars is this: it is admirable because of its intentions and high quality elements, but it is extremely difficult to watch.
Maps to the Stars focuses on the pre-production and production of two films tied together by those involved. The now teenage star of Bad Babysitter, Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird) is cast for the sequel on twice the pay grade and exhibiting all the rotten attitude of a child star. While his psychiatrist father and manager mother attempt to keep him in line, a young burn victim, Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) comes to LA in search of a new life and is hired by Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), a worn out actress who’s last bid for glory is to play her mother – a former actress – in a remake of the film that made her a star, Stolen Waters. As they each struggle in their own search for celebrity, their own personal demons and ghosts from their past come out to play, threatening everything they ever wanted.
One of the most brilliant aspects of Cronenberg’s storytelling in this film is the slow, almost imperceptible dissolve from darkly funny comedy to Sam Shepard Buried Child drama. The sparkling land of Hollywood is broken immediately upon our first meeting with Benjie and his friends, his foul mouth and their irrational, violent hatred of anyone nearly their age belying any childhood sweetness they might have retained. Julianne Moore’s Havana is always in a toxic haze of some kind, her shallow attempts at dignity retention and redemption amidst her crushing self-loathing and delusional state providing most of the dark comedic moments.
It is Wasikowska’s Agatha that provides the very clear path from comedy to drama, and the revelations of her true nature throughout the course of the film are catalysts for some of the best psychotic character development seen this year. She begins the film as a naïve, star-struck ingénue who is awash in the glamor her thankless job as Havana’s “chore whore” exudes as a front. As she continues to meet everyone within the Hollywood community, she draws closer and closer to where she has wanted to be from the start, bringing us deeper into understanding her past and what she has done while Cronenberg uses her as a vehicle to manifest the metaphorical incest of Hollywood into the realm of the physical world.
With such strong and clear characters come the incredible performances that make the film work. Cronenberg enjoys creating messed up characters in an equally messed up world, and none of the cast shied away from that fact. Whether it was Moore mostly naked and crying while John Cusack’s new-age therapist Stafford Weiss straddled her, Olivia Williams’ Christina Weiss sobbing dramatically, naked in a tub, or Evan Bird’s Benjie placing a gun to his head while laughing with his starlet friends, they were all at the top of their game. Wasikowska was brilliant at portraying both sides of her character, the biggest turning point for her played out with a perfect mix of creepy, romantic, and fantastical as she walked through the ruins of her burnt down house while asking Robert Pattinson’s Jerome to recite lines from Stolen Waters with her. The ensemble cast was extraordinary and each one was incredibly powerful in their understanding of their characters.
Above all the brilliant imagery both seen and eluded to – blood, fire, water – lies a story not only about incest but also very strongly about how children, no matter how hard we try, are completely beholden and bound by the sins of our parents. Though the main commentary is about Hollywood’s incestuous community of faces all clambering for their shot at celebrity, the children are the ones in Maps to the Stars that are struggling against the demons created by their parents’ choices and life decisions. This piece of the story’s intentions is what sets it apart from the other behind the scenes looks at the inner darkness of Hollywood and brings it much closer to home.
Like most of Cronenberg’s work, Maps to the Stars is a well developed, strongly performed, and visually stunning piece of cinema. However, it is also a very difficult film to watch and absorb and is not for the faint of heart or the squeamish. As with films of this caliber and type, Maps to the Stars as a whole as well as sequences and images get caught in our brains and fester, begging to be understood and analyzed. It is a brilliant commentary on Hollywood and its inner workings, but it is also about the lengths we can go to in order to achieve success as well as to keep our past locked away in order to keep that success.(4 / 5)
(Photos copyright: Sentient Entertainment, Prospero Pictures)