Maps To The Stars is an intriguing title. It conjures up the “Movie Star Maps” (reputed to be wildly inaccurate) sold to tourists in Hollywood. On the other hand, it could mean the trail to a celestial object. This is David Cronenberg directing a script by Bruce Wagner, so flip a coin.
They throw in an early reference to the cosmos. Upon arriving in LA, Agatha Weiss (Mia Wasikowska) remarks that she’s from Jupiter. That’s the city in Florida. Agatha has scars on her face and body-she wears gloves that cover her arms to the elbow. She takes copious amounts of medication. At this stage, you can’t decide whether to pity her or call 911.
It turns out Agatha is a Twitter acquaintance of Carrie Fisher. The connection lands her a job as the personal assistant- a.k.a. chore whore-of actress Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore, in a bravura performance).
Havana is middle-aged but still troubled by the abuse she suffered from her deceased mother, actress Clarice Taggart (Sarah Gadon). Now the studio wants to remake one of Clarice’s successes, Stolen Waters, and Havana desperately wants to star in it. To deal with her issues, Havana sees TV psychologist Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack).
Stafford is Agatha’s father, but he doesn’t want any contact with her. Neither does her mother (Olivia Williams). Both of them are intent on keeping her away from her little brother, teen idol and psycho-brat Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird).
Ghosts, incest, and flames are all recurring elements in this story, which sprawls across the Hollywood hills, leaping subplots in a single bound. There’s a lot of snarky in-talk, some of it perilously close to the expiration date, most of it venomously clever.
Cronenberg and Wagner are talents individually; together, they are a diabolical force of nature. Moore is the standout among the actors, though Wasikowska and Bird are extremely good in their roles. All elements of this film combine to create the Hollywood that the far right always suspected lay below the surface.
I have just one major problem with this film-it always seems to be on the verge of sharing revelations about Hollywood, but never tells anything new. In fairness, this project took a long time to complete. Cronenberg says the original script was written twenty years ago, and it’s taken until now to get it filmed.
In the interim, we’ve had Altman’s The Player, HBO’s The Larry Sanders Show and Entourage, Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, and the Internet everywhere you look. There’s no doubt in my mind that Maps to The Stars appeared beyond cutting-edge twenty years ago. Unfortunately, its type of knowing-insider viewpoint gets stale in a hurry.
The material might have been better served if Cronenberg and Wagner had left the story in its original timeframe. Updating material is a tricky business. Stories tend to keep the zeitgeist from the time of their creation, no matter how skillful the revisions.
Good as it is, Maps to the Stars often comes off like a well-meaning relative, warning you against doing things that you’ve already tried.
Theme: Hollywood on Hollywood
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