Maps to the Stars

maps to the stars.jpg
UK Release Date 26th September 2014
Director David Cronenberg
Starring Julianne & Mia
Runtime 111 Minutes
Certificate 18
Reviewer Si
Reviewed 4th October 2014

I’ve had a mixed relationship with David Cronenberg’s movies over the years. Videodrome, Scanners and The Dead Zone fascinated me in my youth but I could never really get on with The Fly, being one of the few people who still prefer the original 50’s B movie. Fast forward a couple of decades and one of his most narratively traditional movies, A History of Violence knocked me off my chair with its brilliant blend of family drudgery and horrific violence. 

Which brings us to Maps to the Stars, part it would seem of Cronenberg’s return to his more nightmare like movies of the past (after the more traditional A Dangerous Method and Eastern Promises). Cronenberg is in ripe territory for nightmares as he plumbs the depths of the dark underbelly of Hollywood. Julianne Moore is Havana Segrand (stick with it, if only for the names, they get ever more delirious), a one time hot movie star, ageing disgracefully in a town with no other options. Havana is desperate to play the part of a lifetime, indeed, the part of her lifetime. The role in question is that of her young mother, a Hollywood superstar who died young in a fire and who may or may not have abused her daughter whilst she was alive. “That’s therapy, bitch!” Havana exclaims at one point and isn’t it just. 

Havana divides her time between wholly unorthodox therapy sessions with John Cusack’s crackpot life coach Dr. Stafford Weiss, berating her personal assistants (“Chore-whores”) to the point of nervous breakdowns and desperately sleeping and schmoozing her way around innumerable society parties in an attempt to grab the role that she asserts will complete her recovery. Into this horrendous mess drops mysterious stranger Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), scarred from burns and permanently clad in black, Havana is drawn to Agatha when Carrie Fisher (playing herself) sets an impromptu meeting between the two. Agatha is soon Havana’s new PA and it’s then that things start to get really weird. 

Throw in thirteen year old drug addled child actor Benjie (Evan Bird), son of Dr. Stafford and neurotic wife Christine (Olivia Williams), a bunch of wandering ghosts, a wannabe actor slash scriptwriter slash limo driver (Robert Pattinson) and a wonderfully acerbic turn from Dawn Greenhalgh as Havana and Benjie’s agent and you have the makings of all kinds of carnage.

And if all that doesn’t peak your interest, this probably isn’t the movie for you. Cronenberg is on fine form and in comfortable territory with this one. Everything has a searing course of grubbiness beneath it’s lavish Hollywood exterior. Just like the elbow length black gloves that hide Agatha’s scars, the entire movie portrays a world that has a veritable wealth of scars just waiting to be picked at. Not just happy with attacking Hollywood excess and privilege (this is no Sunset Boulevard), Cronenberg is determined to drag us through child abuse, dysfunctional families, rampant insecurity, insincerity, therapy, addiction and ruthless greed. And boy is it a grubby ride.

Julianne Moore is mind blowing as the car wreck that is Havana. Filmed in the most brutally frank way, it’s a warts and all show of horrific decline. Moore sashays perfectly between painted glamour star, squeezed into a dress made for somebody twenty years younger than Havana, and desperate shrieking child, entirely unable to put the ghosts of her horrible Hollywood past to rest. It’s a performance that won her Best Actress at Cannes this year and if there is any justice, it’s a performance that will win her far more. A ragged soul laid bare on the screen (literally at times), there is no pretension in Moore’s performance, she is every bit Havana and it’s a truly, wonderfully horrible sight to behold.

The support is strong too. Wasikowska likewise treads a good line between smiling innocent abroad and a far darker, pill popping head case. As her motivations gradually become clear and her pills get flushed, she convinces entirely in her journey very much off the rails. Cusack is on better known ground, his Dr. Weiss treading familiar quiet mania filled territory as his bizarre, controlled world starts to unravel and Williams is as horribly convincing as Moore as she dissolves as the plot evolves. Evan Bird, all fresh faced innocence, constantly chugging massive cans of Cobalt energy drink, is just the right side of arrogant horror show to make us believe that amongst his tantrums and contract negotiations, there are many more reasons for his drug issues than the $300,000 a week he earned for Bad Babysitter (the film within a film that you will definitely want to see).

Cronenberg has a great time spinning the variously horrible plates for all they are worth. Shots of actors are routinely just slightly too close up to be comfortable, exposing every fissure, both real and prosthetic, in his stars faces. No depth is left unplumbed, we get Moore sat on the toilet, manfully battling with the backup brought on by her various addictions and blood is spilled in a number of entirely unpleasant ways. Ghosts abound, presumably within his characters minds, but not the scarred, horrific effigies we are used to seeing, for Cronenberg, the dead are the few who have faced their demons and are now beyond the mortal sins committed by them and forced upon them.

What you take from all this will probably depend on your expectations and your affinity with Cronenberg. Anyone looking for a breezy satirical look at Hollywood is going to come out of this mentally bruised and disappointed. Anyone keen to revel in the cesspool created and marvel at the rich depths the director is happy to explore will have a far more rewarding experience. Maps to the Stars is a filthy, sick puppy wearing a wondrous gold collar and howling at the moon for all its worth. Tense, darkly witty and filled with wonderfully, horrifically morally bankrupt characters this is one that will make you feel ever so slightly grubby on your way out of the screening. And I loved it for that.

Check out the trailer here.

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