We take a look at David Cronenberg’s latest big-screen feature Maps to the Stars, a satirical look at Hollywood through the eyes of two former child stars…
The latest big-screen feature from David Cronenberg, Maps to the Stars, is a story about the burn-scarred Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) coming back to California to begin working as a “chore whore” for has-been actress Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), an incredibly self-centered, shrieking, narcissistic nightmare of a character. Havana is being treated by Dr Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), a self-help, lifestyle and celebrity-guru media quack on hand to solve your psychological problems by addressing the physical body resulting in some hair-raising results.
Havana is desperately trying to land the leading role in the remake of a movie that originally starred her mother (Sarah Gadon), a Hollywood legend who died in a fire and is constantly taunting her embittered, twisted daughter as a ghostly figure. Meanwhile, Agatha has a strange relationship that’s related to Dr Stafford Weiss, as well as a putative relationship with a limo driver (Robert Pattinson).
Julianne Moore is absolutely and phenomenally terrific, and to play this monstrous character is very difficult because you have to make that character believable enough to make her not just a caricature, yet you also have to make that character monstrous enough to make the film work. The character of Havana Segrand is incredibly self-centred, completely narcissistic and quite genuinely horrifying, and Moore completely nails that to a T and delivers everything she does, from delivering her lines to communicating through body language, to incredible aplomb. Moore herself has stated in interviews that she has taken inspiration and character traits from people she knew, but she has undeniably created a fully organic performance. I am a huge Julianne Moore fan anyway, but despite being recently Oscar-nominated for her turn in Alice, she also deserves an Oscar for this as she makes that role her own.
The film is definitely a full-on, jet-black comedy, as when you laugh, you begin to question your laughter and feel nervous about it. You feel that Joker-like rictus grin crawl across your own face, not knowing whether to laugh or shriek, almost like as if you’re watching a horror film. There is a horror element in this somewhere, and it’s really smart the way it manages to do that balance of the comedic and the horrifying.
For years, when filmmakers set out to make films that capture and embody the poisonous nature of the Hollywood industry, they just end up becoming somewhat seduced by the subject matter. The perfect example of this is Paul Schrader’s recent film, The Canyons, where the film was as bad as the subject it was trying to criticise in the first place. However, Cronenberg has this detached manner that he uses to look at this really poisonous, cesspit void of Hollywood, but it never seduces him or fascinates him in a lurid, leery way. He’s almost like a doctor/scientist examining this hideous creation and dissecting it with a scalpel.
Maps to the Stars is a film that captures the fleshy, meat-on-bone, visceral punch of Cronenberg’s best films, and delivers one intoxicating trip inside the rancid mind-set of Hollywood life, leaving you almost speechless by the end. Cronenberg has taken Bruce Wagner’s scabrous portrait, shown it with a cool and dissecting eye, and gots his cast to deliver the very best they can. It’s one of the darkest, bleakest, and funniest (oddly) of Cronenberg’s evocative filmography, and Julianne Moore is truly outstanding.