Maps to the Stars (2014) Directed by David Cronenberg. With Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, Evan Bird, Robert Pattinson, John Cusack and Olivia Williams.
Working from a screenplay by Bruce Wagner, David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars plays like a deranged Hollywood fairytale – taking a hefty swipe at Tinseltown’s insular self-obsession and more directly, its incestuous relationship with itself. The film revolves around a group of characters headed up by an excellent Julianne Moore as ‘Havana’ – an actress living in the shadow of her famous mother; tormented by her past and emotionally lost in the spin-cycle of her own fame and fortune. Beyond that, it tells the story of a famous family divided by its attempt to hide its secrets from the glare of the media; to live a lie for the sake of keeping up appearances. Unlike the themes and subtexts buried deep into the surreal core of Cronenberg’s previous film, Cosmopolis, this really feels he is getting something significant off of his chest.
I’ll be honest, I strongly disliked Cosmopolis. Not because of its message or its style, but because I felt as though it laboured its point for the sake of it. For anyone familiar with it – imagine my trepidation as Maps to the Stars begins with Robert Pattinson inside a limousine – ahhgg!! Thankfully, although they both take a stab at the bubble wealthy people live in, this film has a bite to accompany its bark.
Most of that ‘bite’ emanates from Julianne Moore’s Havana. Moore is a tremendous actress in the most forgettable of films. Find her a role like this and you’re setting the stage for greatness to shine. All the while, there’s something reassuringly unassuming about her as an actress; an underlying intelligence behind each performance that marks her aside from many in her profession. She demonstrates that perfectly here – playing a complete bitch so wrapped-up in herself, that she often forgets how to be a human being (sometimes to jet-black comedic effect). This is film full of little monsters offset by personal tragedy.
Actor Evan Bird plays the spoilt brat of the piece (Benjie). His character is the child star of a popular film franchise. To a point, he represents the Justin Bieber’s and Miley Cyrus’ of this world. These people are victims of their own success; scrutinised to the nth degree. Their sheltered lives have a degree of solitude, in the sense that they are prisoners to fame. Without the right balance, it isn’t hard to image madness descending, and through Evan Bird’s performance, Cronenberg states that danger with a jolt.
Peter Suschitzky’s cinematography captures the decadence of Hollywood life. The characters live inside of bubble of material perfection, yet are immune to its worth. It is simply what they expect and it provides no satisfaction. The luxurious interiors serve as a striking stage for despicable behaviour and heartbreak to play out.
There is a lot to mine from Maps to the Stars. It might not play to everyone’s direct taste, but celebrity culture has become an increasingly prevalent part of our lives over the past few decades and Cronenberg hates it (and them). There’s also an in-joke that somehow, this is all Carrie Fisher’s fault. 4/5