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Maps to the Stars (2015)

| March 9, 2015 | 0 Comments

The idea of David Cronenberg taking a jaded look at Hollywood seems irresistible, especially considering the themes of his work. He’s a gonzo artist whose films are always about the bizarre and the grotesque – he made The Fly, Eastern Promises, A History of Violence, Videodrome and The Dead Zone. The very idea that he would take on Hollywood seems to promise great things; alas his latest film Maps to the Stars is a big disappointment, a listless and sometimes vapid movie that doesn’t really tell you anything about Hollywood that you don’t already know.

The movie opens with some promise. A plain-looking girl named Agatha (Mia Washikowska) gets off a bus and approaches a waiting limousine where she wakes up the driver (Robert Pattenson) who reasonably asks where she came from. “Jupiter,” she says, before smiling and admitting, “Jupiter, Florida.” If she hadn’t added the 27th state to her answer, it might have seemed reasonable that she stepped in from another planet. This is Hollywood, after all, another planet unto itself, and we already know that this is indeed a disturbing universe. With that, we’re braced for some nastiness.

We enter into the secret chamber of Hollywood for all its phony inhumanity and inhuman monsters. All the karmic urban legends about how actors get roles, about the weird tantric sex, the huckster therapists, the screwed-up child actors, the stage mothers. We are privy to a dozen or so characters like this that seem to exist within the show business vortex not committed to the business of making art, but in the business of staying relevant. In the context of 21st century ethics, however, there are no consequences for their actions; there are just more and more actions.

The characters are types. There’s Havana (Julianne Moore), an aging actress with mother issues. There’s Benji (Evan Bird), a screwed-up former child actor  – and thinly veiled parody of Justin Bieber – whose public image has taken a beating since he did a stint in rehab. There’s Dr. Weiss (John Cusack) the TV psychologist who is a charlatan with a list of celebrity clients. There’s Agatha, a pyromaniac who’s looking for an identity amid all this shallowness. There’s the limo driver named Jerome (Robert Pattinson) who wants to be a screenwriter. There’s Benji’s mother Cristina (Olivia Williams) who tries and fails to manage the tattered remains of her son’s career.

There’s promise here since all of these characters are played by good actors.  The problem is that these people, for the most part, are uninteresting.  Yes, they’re monsters who do monstrous things and have nasty things happen to them, but some measure of interest must keep our attention.  Sadly, nothing they really do is all that surprising.  Their destinies pretty much go where we expect them to.

The only interesting character is Havana, played in a great performance by Julianne Moore, a once great movie star whose luster is fading fast as she enters her 50s. Past her prime, she has affected the look, the voice and mannerisms of a girl in her late teens in an effort to seem younger. She is the daughter of a celebrated movie star who died years ago, and has since lived in her shadow. After a last ditch effort to save her fading career, she just lost the part in an upcoming movie in which she gets to opportunity to play a role that brought her mother an Oscar nomination. Moore has great notes to play with this character, yes she’s horrible but unlike the other characters, there’s a least a character there.  Her best moment comes when she must stay composed as she gets the news that the woman who got the part just lost her son. It’s tragic, and it’s funny.

Moore manages to keep a flat script afloat, but the basic problem with Maps to the Stars is that it feels dated. Had the movie been made 25 years ago it might have had some punch, but nowadays with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, E!, TMZ, trashy reality shows, and all manner of shallow media news entities that scream celebrity gossip from the rooftops, nothing here seems all that shocking. There have been better and funnier movies about the sludge pits of Hollywood from The Player to Barton Fink to Mulholland Drive to L.A. Confidential. Even Sunset Blvd. 65 years ago was more biting about Hollywood. This films seems late to the party, and sadly a little under-dressed.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2015) View IMDB Filed in: Drama, Uncategorized