by Andy Weston
You will not like the characters of this film.
“Maps to the Stars” is the latest movie from director David Cronenberg, best known for making films about depraved people that make your skin crawl. Although this most recent effort is surprisingly light on the gore front, it’s still chocked full of horrible people.
Like any Cronenberg film, there’s a lot to digest after the first viewing. There are strange encounters with the departed and repeated dialogue that gains more meaning upon further reflection.
If you look past the philosophical trappings and dig into the basic plot-line, “Maps to the Stars” is about the rich and famous hell spawn of Hollywood. It’s a place where everyone is working an angle, and all they want is fame.
The movie opens with Agatha, a young girl from Florida, coming to Hollywood to help Carrie Fisher write a novel. Upon arriving, Fisher sets Agatha up on an interview, with Havana Segrand to be her assistant.
Havana is an aging actress who is dealing with deep-seated trauma due to abuse from her deceased mother, who was also a famous actress. While dealing with these emotional scars she is also trying to land a role in the remake of the film that made her mother famous.
The other characters that round out the story are Benjie, a child star who is on the mend from drug addiction, dealing with his overbearing parents and working on starring in the sequel to a franchise he helped make popular.
There are a lot of moving pieces and key players that make it difficult to describe all of the going-ons in the film, but at its center it’s about the greed and nihilism that comes with being famous and having everything granted to you.
Benjie is a self-centered brat who has no regard for other people. He is somewhat of a vessel for the younger generation of stars that are polluting the media today. He hates and disrespects his younger co-star, talks down to his fans, belittles his producer, ignores interviewers and treats his celebrity friends like garbage.
His father, Stafford, is a self-help guru who is more interested in the release of his new book than he is in helping his own family. His mother, Christina, also his agent, is a woman who gives him whatever he wants as he walks all over her. She appears to be in it to collect residuals on her son’s paychecks, itself a reflection on the real-world occurrence of parents mishandling their celebrity children’s fortunes.
The worst offender of succumbing to this corrupted lifestyle is Havana. She is used to reflect what can happen to those children that are raised in the spotlight. She’s desperate to regain her fame and willing to step on anyone to do it. There comes a point in which she is joyed to hear that a fellow actress’s child has drowned because it means that she is next up for the grieving mothers part. This only scratches the surface of how terrible and narcissistic Havana can be.
Out of this wide range of characters and the actors that play them, including John Cusack, Robert Pattinson and Olivia Williams, there are two performances that really stand out; Julianne Moore as Havana and Mia Wasikowska as Agatha.
Julianne Moore channels the perfect amount of damage and menace to make Havana more than just a washed-up cliché. She is battling demons from her past that make you feel a pang of sympathy for her, but is still so rotten at her core that you maintain a constant distaste throughout.
Wasikowska brings an air of mystery to Agatha. She is quiet and contemplative one moment and eccentric and unpredictable the next. She is the central character that ties everything together, yet is subtle enough in her characterization not to pull focus from the other characters when necessary.
With such a focus on character and story, Cronenberg uses his minimalist style to keep the focus on the players of the piece. Performances are able to shine through and show the emotionality of the tale. He paints Hollywood in such a light that it just seems like another drab part of California’s wastelands. This helps to sell that we really are in the underbelly of civilization.
“Maps to the Stars” won’t have you rooting for anyone by the time the credits roll. It’s a satire on the state of celebrity culture and excess that Cronenberg has delved into in some of his more recent films. If you liked his past films and you’re up for a character study as well as wanting something that requires some thought after the movie ends, then I suggest you check it out. Otherwise it may be best to keep checking your map for stars elsewhere.
“Maps to the Stars” is available to rent now on Amazon and VUDU streaming services.