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
Did not see that on I missed it. Thanks for the review.
It’s an odd little mix. As the days and hours are passing, I’m appreciating it more and more.
I still have no idea what to think about this movie, but I couldn’t look away for a second…Julianne Moore was outstanding, as always!
I know exactly what you mean. I think it’s a slow-burner. The more I think about it, the more I’m realising there are things that I really liked about it.
This is now on my to see list! Very nice review Gareth!
Thank you very much Martin. Be prepared for a something a a little off-centre. If nothing else, Julianne Moore is sensational.
I liked it. It’s tough, sloppy, but meaty.
Yes, it is a little all over the place. I’m still undecided over whether that was a good thing. I think a lot of people feel the same way. On the whole, though, I have to say it worked for me. Julianne Moore is all kinds of great,
The movie really does reveal more with multiple viewings, it’s actually pretty damn brilliant. I thought all the acting, from Moore and Wasikowska on down, was superb, including all the minor parts (the agent, the director, etc.). For me the most mysterious/fascinating character was Agatha (Wasikowska) who really is the connecting tissue and also links to the darker subtext of the film, beyond the localized Hollywood nastiness (which Carrie Fischer clearly IS responsible for). Some wonderful twisted writing from Bruce Wagner, and David Cronenberg continues his masterful dissection of human nature, body and mind.
Great comment, thank you for sharing your insight. You’re absolutely right about Wasikowska. I failed to give her a mention in my review, although like you eloquently put it, she is the connecting tissue of the piece. I notice the film has split opinion with the critics, which given its tone and subject matter is hardly surprising. I’m with you, though. The more I turn it over, the more I realise what a layered film it is. I particularly loved the Carrie Fisher gag. She’s such a sport.
Great to read a good review about this film! Am looking forward to seeing it. Thanks!
I’ll look forward to your review. Thank you for reading. It’s had to predict who will like/dislike this one. One thing is for sure, Julianne Moore is tremendous.
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I thought this was just a very weird film. A sort of satirical take on Hollywood, rooted in the egotistical notion of entitlement through fame, resulting in tragedy, violence and depression. I expected more humour, instead it felt throughly empty. Perhaps that was the point….?
Thank you for such a thoughtful response. You make a great case against it, and I’m sure many people that couldn’t get onside with it might agree with what you say. I think the word ‘weird’ sums it up. It is completely weird, as is Hollywood. I liked the weirdness and the humour inherent within it – mostly Julianne Moore’s potty turn. It’s like the British TV series ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ meets ‘American Beauty’ meets ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’. No sense can come from that kind of combo.
Absolutely – I definitely got that American Beauty vibe from it. I wouldn’t say it was unenjoyable, just a little unexpected. I love Mia Wasikowska though. I think she is a real talent. The Double, Tracks and Stoker in terms of recent filmography has been outstanding.