Film Review: Maps to the Stars

I’ll admit I’m not the most schooled in the magic of David Cronenberg. I have not yet seen The FlyVideodromeor even Naked Lunch. But what I have seen of his, I’ve enjoyed and been interested in the underlying messages he always seems to massage into his films. He seems to have a way with making a commentary on something even with an absurd premise or concept. I’m mainly thinking of his film Crash (1996). This focuses on a group of people who have erotic escapades with, during, and about car crashes–one of the least sensual things I can think to put a person through. But nonetheless, Cronenberg has created a cult following that touts each one of his bizarre films.

So far with the Cannes win for Julianne Moore and nomination for Cronenberg, Maps to the Stars is no different. I went to see this film with high expectations and hope that I would love this movie as much as I love eXistenz. Boy, was I let down and disappointed.

I never leave movies in the middle out of respect for the filmmakers, but I seriously considered leaving a handful of times out of frustration and boredom. I was very confused as to what was happening and still can’t quite wrap my mind around it. There was about five different story lines going on that were intertwined yet completely separated from the overall narrative.

The story is about a girl named Agatha played by Mia Wasikowska. She has come to Los Angeles to visit or find her family after being housed in a sanitarium for setting her house on fire and nearly killing her little brother, but her family doesn’t know she is coming. Robert Pattinson plays a chauffeur and writer/actor in the Hollywood game who maintains his “I don’t know what’s happening” facial expression almost embodying the audience as he tries to figure out what’s reality versus fantasy in Agatha’s story. He seems passively interested in her but more out of “research” than genuine romance. This must be the angle that love is dead in the entertainment industry.

The other people intertwined in Agatha’s life are also featured with their own neurosis. Havana Segrand played by Julianne Moore is a washed up actress digging for a revival film and second chance. When the opportunity comes to act in the role that made her mother famous, she pushes like her life depended on it all the while hallucinating that her dead mother is taunting her. In a scene that made me scratch my head, Havana is working through her emotional stress with a quack of a therapist played by John Cusack who tells her that anger is stored in her thighs and he must rub it out of her in a bondage-like state. She proceeds to burst into tears while muttering about her mother.

But John Cusack and his family have a whole other dynamic going on that turns the movie on its head a third time. Dr. Stafford Weiss (Cusack) and his wife (Olivia Williams) are the proud parents of a newly sober thirteen year old child actor with an ego that rivals Kenneth Branagh. Their battle is to keep their son sober while on set of his multi-million dollar franchise to keep the money flowing in and the tabloids out. As the family dynamic starts to break down, the dirty laundry is aired and the audience’s jaws drop to the floor.

Cronenberg seemed to abandon his obvious schtick of grotesque violence for a mental roller coaster as the puzzle pieces start to screw with the mind more than gratuitous blood would do. But that all being said, I still don’t really know what it is that I watched. I do believe that I got the underlying message of the film which is something Cronenberg always has: Hollywood is incestuous. Period.

But that can’t be all he was trying to say with this film. It seemed as though he had firmly placed his tongue in his cheek for the entirety though as the lines between comedy and drama were blended creating a dreamscape type feeling of a broken Hollywood and the screwed up people who inhabit it. Not one single character had any redeeming qualities as they pushed each other deeper into their pits of self-absorption.

I wish I had anything positive to say about the film, but honestly, I just feel cheated out of my money.

1 out of 5 stars

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