David Cronenberg always held a fascination with body horror and psychosexual themes. Although his latest films lack the grotesqueries of early works such as Videodrome and The Fly, they still maintain the same thematic through lines. Maps to the Stars is no different with a screenplay by Bruce Wagner. Cronenberg finally turns his eye on Hollywood with this searing critique of celebrity culture that plays out like a modern day Greek tragedy.
Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore) is a fading actress who was emotionally and physically abused by her late mother, screen legend Clarice Taggart (Sarah Gadon). Havana attempts to jumpstart her career by portraying her mother in a remake of her most celebrated picture, Stolen Waters. Havana is also haunted by hallucinations of Clarice in her youthful prime.
Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird) is a bad boy of Bieber proportions. At only 13 years of age, he’s been in and out of rehab. He’s not above lighting into his assistant with an anti-Semitic tirade for an embarrassing mistake. Benjie’s parents are no prizes either. His mother, Cristina (Olivia Williams), is a shark when it comes to managing her son’s career. His father, Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), is a celebrity psychologist with more interest in scoring talk show appearances than fixing his crumbling family.
Into their lives comes Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), fresh off the bus from Florida with long black gloves covering the scars from a childhood fire. Thanks to a connection from Carrie Fisher (in a cameo as herself), Agatha becomes Havana’s new personal assistant.
The usual sticking points about life in Los Angeles are all present. Young actors engaging in excessive drug use and inane conversations. Others opine about meeting the Dalai Lama, not as a spiritual awakening, but as a hip trend. One character talks about becoming a Scientologist as a “career move.”
Cronenberg has a tough time balancing the multiple storylines and characters. Robert Pattinson takes a supporting role as Jerome, a limo driver who aspires to be an actor and screenwriter. In a change of pace from Cosmopolis, Pattinson spends most of his time in the front of the limo instead of the back. However, his brief dalliance with Agatha could have easily been excised from the movie. None of the characters are particularly sympathetic, which may be a problem for those who want their films about likeable people.
Maps to the Stars succeeds due to Cronenberg’s interests into the macabre and a stellar cast. Julianne Moore won the Oscar for Still Alice, but it’s clear she didn’t get enough recognition for her less audience friendly role as Havana. Moore is absolutely fearless in portraying Havana as a flaming hot mess in yoga pants. During one scene, she runs down an ornate shopping list for Agatha while sitting on the toilet. Another scene sees Havana doing a celebratory dance when she learns she’s won a role because the previous actress’s son drowned.
The video is presented in anamorphic widescreen with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. There’s a slightly soft look to the picture due to the digital cinematography, but overall quality is good. Images are clean with eye-popping colors.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. Nothing overwhelming here as the dialogue comes in crisp and clear mixed with a subtle score by Howard Shore.
None, which is especially disappointing since the UK release featured a commentary track by Bruce Wagner and other bonus material.
Film Value: 7
It makes complete sense for David Cronenberg to turn his eye on Hollywood. The land of cosmetic surgery and Botox injections is a perfect fit for his brand of body horror. Shining the light on the dark side of Tinseltown isn’t anything new and the subject matter has been done better. You can take a look at Barton Fink, The Player or go all the way back to Sunset Boulevard. Maps to the Stars doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but Cronenberg’s unique vision makes for compelling drama.