Mark Reviews Movies

Maps to the Stars


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: David Cronenberg

Cast: Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, Evan Bird, Olivia Williams, Robert Pattinson

MPAA Rating: R (for strong disturbing violence and sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some drug material)

Running Time: 1:51

Release Date: 2/27/15 (limited); 3/5/15 (wider)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 5, 2015

Maps to the Stars is a rant against the virtues of Hollywood—or, more appropriately, the lack thereof. Like any rant that seeks to garner attention, it is, above all else, loud and angry. It's a story of arson, drug addiction, seeing ghosts, and the suggestion of incest, and that's just the first act of Bruce Wagner's screenplay. By the time it's finished, the movie includes a murder, a violent assault, a self-immolation, the celebration of the death of a child, and the confirmation of the suggested incestuous relationship. This isn't just anger. It's rage.

The movie is also unfocused and a little too generalized for its targets to really take a hit. Even in its quieter moments, the movie portrays people who are so damaged and deranged that we can't see them as human beings. They are caricatures within a system that, in the eyes of director David Cronenberg, comes across as a previously undiscovered rung of Hell. Hollywood ruins people and is also a place where ruined people can thrive—bolstered by their own misery and self-destruction while feeding off the misery and destruction of others. That's the point, but it's also the only point here.

The quintet of central characters is bound together by familial and professional relationships that sometimes overlap. They also share a desire for recognition. It's not fame or, as all of them likely achieve by the movie's end, infamy. It's a yearning that they and others should recognize that their talents, their work, their history, and their very lives have worth, and that each one's individual talents, work, history, and life are somehow more important than those of the other's—and especially of the plebeians who could never hope to accomplish what they have.

There's Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), whose career has followed the path of so many aging actresses before her. She's sliding into obscurity by means of a role in a TV movie. She's started to tell stories of how her mother—herself an actress—sexually abused her as a child. The ghost of Clarice Taggart (Sarah Gadon), Havana's mother, begs to differ whenever she appears to her daughter in visions that may not be real but likely could be. Havana is campaigning to play her own mother in a movie—a role that is a "guaranteed Supporting" bid during awards season.

Far more famous now is Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird), a child actor whose recent drug problems are putting his career in jeopardy. He's supposed to make a sequel to a movie about a bad babysitter, but the studio is uncertain. Benjie tries to do some good deeds, including visiting a fan in the hospital (He's mad when he learns that the girl isn't suffering from a more recognizable disease).

After some politicking with the help of his mother Christina (Olivia Williams), shooting starts, but Benjie becomes jealous of a younger co-star who's stealing all "his laughs." Benjie's father Stafford (John Cusack), by the way, is a self-help guru who is helping Havana through her issues.

Outside all of this—but with some insider knowledge that becomes clearer as the movie progresses—is Agatha (Mia Wasikowska). She arrives in Hollywood with elbow-length gloves covering up severe burn scars and a customized shirt announcing that she was "the Original Bad Babysitter." She begins working as Havana's personal assistant while arranging meetings with Jerome (Robert Pattinson), a limo driver who is, of course, an aspiring actor.

Agatha is also a big fan of one of Clarice's movies, which follows an arsonist who finds love in a mental health facility. She repeats a speech from the movie like a mantra. It's unclear whether Agatha believed the movie was a justification for an act in her past or if she just sees the movie as a way to romanticize it. Either way, it separates her from the reality of her behavior.

For all the melodrama and mysteries that come from these characters and their connections to each other, that disconnect is the fuel for the characters. It's enabled by the lack of consequences and, at times, rewards for their behavior. They have gotten and get away with a lot, almost because of the belief that such behavior is simply a part of life in Hollywood.

It's not strange to anyone that a teenager has a severe problem with substance abuse. It's not odd that an actress would take advantage of a child's death to further her career. It's normal that a power marriage has some dark, unspoken secrets. The philosophy of Hollywood here seems to be that it could be worse. Wagner's screenplay keeps making these characters worse and worse until there are bodies for which to account. No one does, of course, because these people are free of real-world repercussions.

There's nothing revelatory in the enraged critique within Maps to the Stars, although it is carried somewhat further than its limitations by some really wicked humor and a few of the performances (Almost every member of the cast is playing some variation of an irreparable person, but Moore, Wasikowska, and Bird are the most convincing of the bunch). The whole, though, feels too obvious and too vague for the movie to make any genuine impact.

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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