REVIEW: Maps to the Stars

28 02 2015

MapsI have spent extended periods of time in Hollywood, and I really wish I had David Cronenberg’s “Maps to the Stars” by my side then to confirm all my suspicions and misgivings.  Director David Cronenberg and writer Bruce Wagner do not merely depict the shallowness and the narcissism dominant in the local culture so much as they diagnose it.  The film pinpoints a number of endemic ills in a town built on deception with the accuracy of a pathologist.

This saga of shameless self-promoters caught in a tangled web of ego bashing may not quite cohere in its explosive third act, yet it hardly detracts from the pleasure of simply watching them exist for an hour or so.  Cronenberg gets his cast to deliver performances tuned to the perfect channel: exaggeratedly hilarious without ever veering sharply into parodic or burlesquing territory.

Nowhere does this approach find better expression than in Julianne Moore’s brilliantly demented Havana Segrand, which – all due respect to “Still Alice” –  is the kind of work that should have netted the actress her first Oscar.  Nonetheless, she has the statue now, and we have this performance to relish forever.

Havana is Moore’s Norma Desmond, the fading and aging screen icon vividly realized by Gloria Swanson in “Sunset Boulevard.”  In an obvious attempt to jumpstart her career again, Havana tries desperately to land a coveted part in a remake of a movie that originally starred her late mother.  To settle her neuroses and ease her pain in the meantime, she hires a new “chore whore” at the suggestion of Carrie Fisher (playing herself, in a brilliantly ironic insertion by Wagner) – the mysterious burn victim Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) who recently arrived in town.

Maps to the Stars

Havana’s braying whine could have come across as a superficial Valley Girl put-on in the hands of a less capable actress.  Moore, however, internalizes her words and regurgitates them with such an affectation to demonstrate her oblivious entitlement and reckless egotism.  The infantile voice of her character becomes a microcosm for her very being.  The brilliance of Moore’s performance is that she makes stepping into Havana’s shoes seem effortless.

Everyone else in “Maps to the Stars” also boasts their own twist on an archetype.  John Cusack’s Stafford Weiss is a therapist and self-help guru who could probably pass for an evangelist in Hollywood.  His son, Benjie (Evan Bird), finds himself recovering from a drug addiction … by wolfing down toxic energy drinks.  And chauffeuring them all is Robert Pattinson’s Jerome Fantana, a limo driver who lives up to the old stereotype that everyone in Los Angeles secretly harbors a desire to work in the film industry.

Continuing a trend in his career reinvention, Pattinson surprises with a turn that delivers a welcome dose of earnestness and normalcy to a movie where neither trait presents itself in other characters.  Wagner and Cronenberg show a ravenous eagerness to literalize the figurative incest and inbreeding that occurs in the insular enclave of Hollywood.   Whether attempting to elicit a cringe, a groan, or a laugh, “Maps to the Stars” always got a vigorous nod out of me, acknowledging and recognizing what I saw as distortions of reality through a funhouse mirrors.  B+3stars



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