Starring Julianne Moore and John Cusack. Rated 18A.
Chalk it up to being Canadian or just having weird tastes, but David Cronenberg has always hovered on the outer limits of Hollywood. That’s what allows him to bite the hand that may or may not feed him with such brutal, pitbull-like force here.
Maps to the Stars is such a savage satire of the movie industry that it makes parodies by Robert Altman, Woody Allen, and Larry David look like gentle jabs in comparison. Here, we have aging starlets who holler orders at their “chore whores” from the toilet seat and throw themselves into whatever stoned three-ways they deem necessary to getting a movie role. We have celebrity therapists who quote the Dalai Lama while pressing on the “personal history points” of their lingerie-clad clients. And we have Biebs-like child stars who call their agents “Jew faggots” and sit around bars deeming anyone over 19 “totally menopausal”.
The scathing tone comes courtesy of screenwriter Bruce Wagner, also an outsider with insider knowledge of Hollywood. His story surrounds a girl named Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) who comes to Hollywood to work as an assistant to actor Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore). But Agatha, who has burn scars on her face and body, seems more drawn to the site of an old fire in the Hills—a mysterious past tragedy that ties her to psychobabbler Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack) and his son, child star Benjie (Evan Bird). Cue visions of ghosts, copious name-dropping, and hints of incest.
Some of Cronenberg’s favourite themes are here, from obsessive siblings to physical scars. But the film’s main flaw is that he shoots it all with the cold remove and unhurried pacing of Crash or eXistenZ, when it should speed along at the clip of a Century City business meeting. There’s also a bizarre, Lynchian dose of the archly melodramatic here, with women prone to hysterical crying jags.
Mixed with the supernatural scenes, it’s a strange brew indeed. But the performances are fearless across the board. Moore, with her pursed lips, Lindsay Lohan highlights, and Valley Girl delivery, is part mercenary whore, part tantruming child. And Wasikowska’s odd, quietly observational approach is the perfect foil to Bird’s sickeningly jaded 13-year-old.
It’s just that the humour here is so joyless—but maybe that’s because Maps gets so close to the soulless heart of Hollywood.