“Maps To The Stars” is the latest black comedy thriller from director David Cronenberg and in comparison to his disappointing “Cosmopolis”, this does a far better job at exposing the horrors of the American movie business. As is typical for Cronenberg, this is a strange and non conventional film - comic at times, stimulating at other times and downright bizarre for most of the time. The grimly amusing script was written by Bruce Wagner and it’s fair to say that the movie is a real jibe at Tinseltown - a brutal and savage Hollywood satire, leaving very little about life in LA unscathed.
We are brought into the lives of a family of monsters living in a virtual glass-house! Dr Stafford Weiss (John Cusack) is a domineering self-help guru of sorts whose concern for his family is consistently eclipsed by his forthcoming book tour. He and his fragile wife Christina (Olivia Williams) are parents to 13-year-old child star Benjie (Evan Bird) who is the superstar of the massively successful “Bad Babysitter” franchise. Benji is obnoxious, smug and superior and spends his time bossing and dismissing his fawning sycophants, hurling insults at everybody he meets. He is just out of rehab which has done nothing to mellow his vile character. His parents want his lucrative career and reputation restored. However, their lives are further complicated by the release from the psycho ward of their pyromaniac daughter Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) who gets a job as a PA to Havana Seagrand (Julianne Moore) based on a recommendation from Carrie Fisher (played by herself). Havana is a neurotically unhinged, selfish and deeply damaged actress living in the shadow of her mother, an iconic movie star who died in a blaze at a young age but who sexually abused her daughter. She is also a client of Dr Stafford Weiss, who practices a weird form of kooky massage therapy. Havana is unaware that Agatha is a dark Weiss family secret, which they have battled to keep hidden. Havana is desperately fighting for a role to play her mother in an upcoming biopic while at the same time being stalked by a creepy chauffeur Jerome (Robert Pattison), an aspiring actor and screenwriter. If anything, Agatha emerges as the most vulnerable, sympathetic figure in the industry defined by her twisted family. The various strands of the plot begin to link together for a series of violent conclusions. The chaotic finale is sure to shock you but I thought it really captured the mayhem and madness plaguing their grotesque world.
Each of the glittering and impressive cast members embrace their sadistic and bizarre roles with delight. Pattison has a small but crucial role, relishing the constant jibes at the glitterati in Hollywood. He even thinks he might join scientology – “as a career move”. I think he was under utilized for the most part. Moore is hilarious as the hysteric, vapid, coarse wannabe starlet who never lets an opportunity pass her by. Wasikowska makes a dramatic shift from her usual material and successfully brings us her creepy psycho, living on a knife’s edge. Bird (from The Killing) plays the disgustingly privileged son to perfection.
The movie business is depicted as an incestuous, dark and dirty place and I thought this was a truly masterful dissection of that world. What works with this film is just watching everyone struggle in their total moral chaos. We are given a picture of a nightmarish Hollywood, far removed from the utopia we imagine in our heads. There are countless outrageous scenes, some good gags (most of it is pure filthy – don’t go with your parents!), ghosts haunt swimming pools and luxury villas, sex, drugs and murder are all factored in to the zany plot. What is so shocking is the utter devotion to money and celebrity - it pervades and overrides every aspect of the lives of this warped and self-delusional community.
With a superb premise, starry cast, and edgy script, I think this movie will do well, particularly amongst the curious (like me!). This is a movie that breaks every rule in the book but it knows where it is going. Every major plot point underscores the downward spiral enveloping the empty lives of these Hollywood nutters. It is undoubtedly an angry movie, a full on assault and exposure of every aspect of commercial stupidity in the vapid, destructive and chaotic modern world of commercialism. It is an extraordinary film and could conceivably bring Cronenberg his first Palme D’Or. It’s certainly different and not like what you will have seen before but I do think the nature of this material will be off putting for some. For example, we are witness to one extended bathroom scene with Moore which is likely to be a source of disgust for many viewers. Arguably, there are large sections where nothing much of consequence happens but there are so many layers and so many horrors emerge during this tumultuous journey, that I’d recommend you check it out and make up your own mind.