Film review: MAPS TO THE STARS, from Built For Speed.

From Day of the Locust’s nightmarish vision of a perverse and corrupt Hollywood to Mulholland Drive’s dream of stardom turned nightmare, many films have explored the bizarre and disturbing underbelly of Hollywood.  David Cronenberg’s latest film, Maps To The Stars explores this world through the director’s typically bizarre and unsettling vision.

In Cronenberg’s nihilistic take on tinsel town, Hollywood is creepy and sterile world full of clean, angular surfaces, extravagant wealth and people anaesthetised by new age mantras and store-bought spirituality. Beneath the calm glossy patina, however, lie damaging personal traumas, seething resentments and barely suppressed mental illness. This is not A-list Hollywood, though, this is the world of dubious and contemptible teen stars and embittered has-beens whose quest for stardom has left them sick and devoid of compassion.

In its dissection of Hollywood, Maps to the Stars follows seemingly disparate story threads that eventually unite in disturbing fashion.  At the centre of story is the strange Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) a young woman mysteriously scarred by a fire that occurred in childhood.  At first she seems to be just another starry-eyed kid visiting Hollywood but there’s a much more unsettling reason for her journey to the movie capital. The film establishes an unusual relationship between her and a group of oddballs including obnoxious teen star Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird) who has earned fame and obscene wealth from an atrocious teen comedy of which even he is contemptuous, Benjie’s neurotic stage mom Cristina (Olivia Williams), Benjie’s new age guru dad Dr Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), limo driver Jerome Fontana (Robert Pattinson) and ageing former starlet Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore) who is bizarrely trying to resurrect her career by taking the lead in a remake of film that previously starred her abusive Mother. 

While there is a familiar crime story running through this film, Cronenberg and writer Bruce Wagner more concerned with the bizarre world in which it takes place.  This is a figuratively and at times literally incestuous world in which children are frequently hurt and to a disturbingly high degree in this film, killed.  It’s also a world where every tragedy is a career opportunity and where Hollywood nightlife consists of repulsive idiot teens hanging out in nightclubs that they’re much too young to be in.  Cronenberg cleverly keeps this strange world from becoming an unbelievable parody by adopting a restrained matter-of-fact tone, a low-key realistic visual style, location shots around Hollywood and by including stars such as Carrie Fisher playing themselves.  It wouldn’t be a David Cronenberg film, though, without some memorably shocking scenes and here bludgeoning, shootings and even self-immolation shatter the anaesthetised calm of this wealthy and privileged world.

The cast are uniformly excellent even if some characters are thinly developed.  The ever-reliable Mia Wasikowska brings some of the wonderful creepiness she displayed in Stoker.  Julianne Moore revels in this demolition of celebrity turning Havana into both victim and monster.  Evan Bird is remarkably good evoking several recent young male celebrities and showing within the vile Benjie touching flickers of humanity and vulnerability.  John Cusack, playing completely against type, is superbly sleazy as the self-righteous guru and massage therapist Dr Weiss.

Maps to the Stars is full of Hollywood in-jokes referencing Joan Crawford and even the cast’s other films.  In one scene John Cusack turns up at Mia Wasikowska’s a house dressed just like was in Grosse Point Blank.

This creepy film will not be to all tastes and may appeal more to cinephiles than the average movie-goer.  It has rightfully earned considerable plaudits and how hilarious would it be if this unflinching attack on Hollywood snared an Oscar?

Nick’s rating: ***1/2.

Genre: Drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): David Cronenberg.

Release date: 20thNov 2014

Running time: 111 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 


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