Maps to the Stars (Review)

"This made sense in movies like Videodrome and eXistenZ, which revolved around shady geo-political schemes, but here, spouted by two of our leads with forced regularity, it feels completely out of place."

by Josh Stillman

Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), hoping to hustle her way into the film industry through a Twitter connection with Carrie Fisher, shows up in LA and hitches a ride with Jerome (Robert Pattinson), a limo driver and aspiring actor. Eventually, she gets hired as a personal assistant to Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), a histrionic fading star who's haunted by visions of her dead mother (Sarah Gadon). Meanwhile, 14-year-old Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird) is riding high on the success of his Bad Babysitter franchise, while his father (John Cusack) hawks New Age nonsense on TV and his mother (Olivia Williams) alternates between cutthroat careerism and emotional breakdowns. We follow all of these characters as they fall prey to their own insecurity, narcissism, and reckless ambition, until – in true Cronenberg fashion – blood starts flowing.

Maps to the Stars
Directed by
David Grodinbergh
Cast
Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson
Release Date
27 February 2014
Josh's Grade: C

Julianne Moore is predictably excellent as Segrand. As puffy and pouty as a middle-aged Lindsay Lohan, Moore strikes a wonderful balance between the character's childlike insecurity and her over-privileged charisma. She's as comfortable throwing tantrums as she is manipulating her admirers. 14-year-old Evan Bird is another standout, making his occasionally repellent child star into someone for whom we feel genuine sympathy. He, too, captures the balance between preternatural maturity and stunted emotional development, both byproducts of early stardom.

But, for better or worse, the real star here is Bruce Wagner's screenplay. It's packed tight with the minutia of Hollywood – characters discuss budgets and contracts and industry politics in rich detail, and they do it very casually, almost offhand. The result is an extremely realistic, and often very boring, depiction of the world the characters live in. Such dense, technical dialogue is sure to appeal to people in the film industry, but to anyone who doesn't make a living off movies, it's incomprehensible.


Cronenberg doesn't do much to liven things up. As with his two most recent films (Cosmopolis, A Dangerous Method), his direction here is very sedate – he's officially moved into staid, talky terrain and away from the campy gore that used to be his calling card. Gone is the director that had James Woods pulling a dripping handgun out of a gaping vagina wound in his chest; now, characters just talk at each other for two hours until someone gets murdered. And even when violence does break out, it's not nearly as shocking or stylized as it was in Eastern Promises and A History of Violence (both of those films contain some of the most beautifully choreographed fight scenes ever shot).

So not only did he fail to capitalize on one of his greatest strengths, he resorted, unnecessarily, to another of his trademarks: the cryptic and oft-repeated mantra. This made sense in movies like Videodrome and eXistenZ, which revolved around shady geo-political schemes, but here, spouted by two of our leads with forced regularity, it feels completely out of place.

It's the work of a director inserting his watermark where it doesn't belong. If only he had employed his signature touch elsewhere, giving things a bit more life. Even a twisted, murderous ogre needs a personality.

3 Week Diet

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