Maps to the Stars is the latest film from Canadian director David Cronenberg. It features a talented cast which includes Julianne Moore, John Cusack, Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska, and Sarah Gadon. The film is noteworthy because it’s the first time in Cronenberg’s long career that he has chosen to film on location in Hollywood. Maps to the Stars explores the lives of several dysfunctional Los Angeles residents, particularly one high profile family plagued by issues relating to incest and insanity.
Although David Cronenberg didn’t write this film; that task comes courtesy of Bruce Wagner, Maps to the Stars deals with much of the same subjects that have taken center stage in many of the iconic filmmaker’s previous movies. This material includes references to physical disfigurement (in this case burn scars) as well as an interest in portraying unusual or kinky sexual relationships (remember the 1996 flick Crash?). Indeed psychological problems and incestuous relationships play major roles in the narrative of Maps to the Stars.
There’s something about this film that mirrors the tone of Cronenberg’s 2012 film, Cosmopolis. Both are permeated by a stilted and surreal feeling that no doubt results in leaving many viewers questioning what elements were real and what were intended to be fantasy. Both films are also flawed by pretentiousness and an unrealistic sense of self importance. It’s as if both films were intended to make sharp satirical statements about modern society but each falls short and instead the result is just plain boring and uninteresting.
Maps to the Stars has been billed as a biting satire on Hollywood and the superficial people who flourish there. To illustrate this theme the film presents us with an inside look at the Weiss family which is made up of Benjie (played by Evan Bird) a teen actor who personifies every nasty stereotype there is about young Hollywood, his controlling and money driven mother (Olivia Williams), and his father Dr. Stafford Weiss (Cusack) a famous psychotherapist who not only maintains his practice but also writes best selling self help-books.
Added to the mix is Agatha (portrayed by Wasikowska) a mysterious and troubled burn victim/psych patient who has journeyed to Hollywood on the advice of Carrie Fisher (?). Agatha soon finds a job as a personal assistant to an aging starlet named Havana Segrand (Moore) who’s battling her own inner demons. Early on in the film viewers learn that Havana’s late mother was a famous actress who sexually abused her daughter. Perhaps the most effective aspect of Maps to the Stars is its portrayal of Havana’s unraveling psyche as she finds herself being terrorized by a young ghostly vision of her mother. Up and coming Canadian actress Sarah Gadin (who also appeared in Cosmopolis) delivers an appropriately creepy performance as the supernatural apparition who delivers such lines as, “Hell is a world without narcotics.”
Although Maps to the Stars features a number of characters none of them are portrayed to be likable. Each character seems to personify negative traits like greed, vanity, anger, deceit, and jealousy. They lack dimension and come off as shallow stereotypes rather than real human beings.
Perhaps actor Robert Pattinson’s legions of Twilight fans will want to see Maps to the Stars to see their idol. Unfortunately they’ll probably be disappointed in his small role. It’s rather ironic that in Cosmopolis, Cronenberg’s last collaboration with Pattinson, the young actor spent most of his screen time as a limousine passenger. In Maps to the Stars Pattinson is once again stuck in a limo only this time his status has been downgraded to that of the role of chauffer.
Maps to the Stars is a major disappointment. Instead of serving as a biting satire of Hollywood in the tradition of Robert Altman’s classic 1992 film The Player, it comes off as just plain nasty and unpleasant.
Maps to the Stars is out now.