Maps to the Stars

Maps to the Stars

Postby CAP » Sun Dec 28, 2014 5:18 am

Vaguely interesting but ultimately flawed black comedy from notoriously errant Canadian director David Cronenberg - give it five. I only saw this because I was fed up with the pretence of Christmas shopping, the crowds, hype, and a total absence of enthusiasm, following two unexpected deaths in two months and my own dire predicament. I was in no mood. I picked it as the least of evils. And for a while it’s okay-ish with Julianne Moore as Havana Segrand, a faded Hollywood star and daughter of a notorious diva, desperate to land the role of her mother in an upcoming biopic. Julianne really pulls out all the stops here, appropriately, and in no time you’re hoping she will die soon. Another thread to the plot introduces Evan Bird as precocious young teenage star Benji Weiss - hopelessly pampered, arrogant and manipulative. Again, you just know things will not end well for the young man. But strangely, their come-uppance comes not through the usual sordid channels of the dream factory, but through a scarcely articulated past of incest and occult intervention. Writer Bruce Wagner seems to be channelling a heady cocktail of Sunset Boulevard and Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon, with a leering wink to Anger’s occult leanings. In theory, it could be fun, handled with a certain lightness of touch but that pretty much precludes the leaden Cronenberg. He’s up for the in-jokes about Hollywood agents and ‘auditions’, the crazy lifestyles and decadence, the dependence upon therapists and advisors for everything, but lacks say, a Billy Wilder’s, or even an Arrested Development’s faith in brisk farce.

Instead the thing lumbers along, wallowing in its tantrums and shop talk, not quite focussing or getting down to business and there are long stretches where you find yourself watching the decor – vaguely reminiscent of Hockney’s Late 60s Los Angeles period – expansively (and doubtless expensively) tiled patios and ample pot plants, swimming pools glowing at night, deck chairs... tacky paintings and figurines in enormous lounges. But then you snap out of it with a WTF am I actually watching? How does all this fit together? And you have to start putting the whole thing together in your head because the writer and director couldn’t get it onto the screen. What a drag. So anyway the story actually revolves around Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), returning to Hollywood, seemingly as an outsider, taking the guided tour in a limo bit around Beverly Hills, Burbank etc (hence the title – with a play of ‘stars’ since fate and the vengeance of higher forces ultimately become the real map). Australian actress Wasikowska is the lynch pin, playing the horribly scarred nineteen-year old returning to visit her parents and younger brother, Benji, after a long incarceration in Florida, following her apparent attempt to murder Benji and burn down the family home as an eleven-year old. The arson resulted only in terrible burns to most of her body. Her wardrobe and hairstyle conceal the worst of her disfigurement. But she somehow looks kind of cool in the long gloves and everything. It’s a role Wasikowska inhabits effortlessly. No wonder she’s been so busy in recent years. But you wonder who played these kinds of roles before she appeared? Maybe Claire Dane, going back a stretch? At a stretch... Sissy Spacek? The suspicion is Wasikowska actually inspires a whole new wave of spooky young female leads in Hollywood scripts.

Agatha tries hitting on the chauffeur of her touring limo, Jerome (Robert Pattinson) who confides he is a struggling actor and screen writer, but she is tactfully rebuffed. Later, however, when she lands a job as Havana Segrand’s personal assistant through a tenuous connection to Carrie Fisher (making a cameo) she fares better for introducing him to Havana. Then, cynically, she is a more attractive prospect for Jerome and the shrewdly cast Pattinson. They soon become lovers and learning of this Havana cannot resist seducing him in the limo, such is her insecurity after failing to win the role of her mother. Nor can Jerome resist the possible leverage he might thus acquire. But they do not realise they are in plain sight of Agatha, with the limo parked in the driveway of Havana’s mansion and this pretty much seals Havana’s fate. Meanwhile Benji is spooked by the ghost of a young cancer victim he visited in hospital as part of his publicity obligations, bungling the cause of her terminal affliction (Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma). Her ghost sits by his pool one evening with another and taunts him, later she appears in the toilet of his movie set, momentarily replacing a young rival of Benji’s, enraging Benji so much that he strangles her, only to realise he has then strangled his young rival. The supernatural side is enhanced by an outrageous coincidence whereby Havana’s rival, having won the role of her mother then loses her young son in a tragic drowning so that she withdraws from the movie (the young boy is seen with the ghost that haunts Benji at his pool). Later, Benji’s mother, Cristina (Olivia Williams) spontaneously combusts beside the pool, to be uselessly prodded into it by her husband, Dr. Stanford Weiss (John Cusack) spreading the grief. Cusack actually makes a surprisingly good villain.

So fire and water running freely through the craziness but sitting oddly with the decadence and satire of Hollywood lives, but at the heart of all the evil is the Weiss’s incestuous marriage. Stanford and Cristina are actually brother and sister, although unaware of it when they married. This is the sin that is variously visited upon their children. Agatha beats Havana to death with a brass figurine (possibly an award) when fired and insulted but sees some perverse justice in her death and realises the ‘curse’ against her can only end with the mutual ‘marriage’ and suicide of she and Benji. In a way it’s poetic as well as being grossly delusional and Hollywood, but we neither really laugh nor cry at their deaths, partly because the whole milieu seems equally damned, partly because there were never enough positives to Agatha or Benji to make them worth caring about. As drama, it is just too murky and confused. I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re desperate. :?
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