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USA 2014
Directed by
David Cronenberg
111 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Chris Thompson
3.5 stars

Maps To The Stars

Synopsis: The Weiss family is pure Hollywood. Stafford (John Cusack) is a celebrity self-help analyst and coach with a cable television show and an impending book tour. His wife, Cristina (Olivia Williams), spends most of her time managing the career and drug scandals of their thirteen year old son Benjie (Evan Bird), a child star famous for the hit movie Bad Babysitter.  Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore) is an actress who dreams of shooting a remake of the 60’s movie that made her mother, Clarice, almost as famous as her tragic death in a fire. Havana is also a client of Stafford Weiss and, coincidentally, has just hired the Weiss’ estranged daughter, Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) as her personal assistant. The latter has just arrived in LA after being released from a Florida sanatorium where she was being treated after burning down the family home.
There was a time when David Cronenberg films like The Fly and Videodrome could be counted on to explore the darker and often repulsively uglier sides of human existence from both the internal and decidedly grotesque external perspectives. They’d give you a good dose of schlock but in an intelligent, thoughtful way.  More recently, though, in films like A History Of Violence and A Dangerous Method he’s let go of the prosthetically-enhanced ‘grand guignol’ side of his film-making to focus on the darkness that lies within. That exploration continues, albeit in a blackly comical way, with Maps To The Stars.

Written by Bruce Wagner who was responsible for the 1990s TV mini-series Wild Palms (a guilty pleasure, I must admit) this complex intersection of characters steers away from being just another ‘inside Hollywood story’ like The Player to go deeper into the shallow, narcissistic, self-serving lives of this group of largely unlikeable Hollywood parasites, kow-towers and wanabees.  It’s in these unlikeable qualities that Cronenberg finds much of the film’s humour. However, it’s also these qualities that, for me, create the film’s major flaw; it doesn’t really have a character to barrack for.

This quibble aside, there is certainly a lot of enjoyment to be had in the performances. Cusack is in fine form for a change and Bird’s performance as the seriously troubled teen star is a car crash (in a good way) – you want to turn away from it, but you just can’t. But the outstanding performance of the film is Julianne Moore who treads a not-so-fine line between the selfish, vainglorious, would-be celebrity and the needy, fragile, vulnerable woman of a certain age. It’s a great role, perfectly played and well deserving of the Best Actress gong at this year’s Cannes.

In the end, this is a film that relies more on its characters than its narrative. There is a story here; several in fact, but they meander around each other in a way that sometimes seems overly reliant on coincidence and at other times seems propelled towards the inevitable. Nevertheless, it offers us some sharp observations of these sad, hollow shells of people, some nicely acerbic humour and, even if the story’s not entirely absorbing, it still has the Cronenberg intelligence and thoughtfulness.




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