tue 23/04/2024

Maps to the Stars | reviews, news & interviews

Maps to the Stars

Maps to the Stars

David Cronenberg goes in for Hollywood's close-up and it's far from a pretty picture

Hollywood's veneer has been cracked so many times it's possible to see right through to its cynical core; in an age of irreverence and intrusion the stars simply don't glitter as brightly. David Cronenberg's Maps to the Stars is a film that forgets all this and sets out its satirical stall anyway.

A measure of malice to floor an elephant and a pair of striking performances - from Mia Wasikowska as a deliciously strange fruit and from Julianne Moore, giving us every shade of a star - nearly salvage it.

Moore plays fading actress Havana Segrand. Part Baby Jane, part Norma Desmond, part porn star, she languishes in the shadow of her dear departed mother Clarice (Sarah Gadon) - also an actress and, annoyingly for Havana, a fondly remembered one - who Havana claims sexually abused her and whose youthful ghost haunts and taunts her throughout.

Havana takes on the enigmatic, mentally fragile Agatha (Wasikowska, pictured below right) as her new assistant, who's befriended Carrie Fisher on Twitter and has returned to Hollywood to reunite with her family. They're less keen, but are a uniquely unpleasant trio themselves: quack to the stars Dr Stafford Weiss (a nicely nasty John Cusack, clearly enjoying his new villainous groove), pushy parent Christina (Olivia Williams - brilliantly brittle, as ever) and, the object of Christina's ruthless deal-making, 13-year-old teen idol Benjie (Evan Bird), the spoilt star of a horrible film franchise called "Bad Babysitter".

On arriving, Agatha befriends her chauffeur Jerome (Robert Pattinson) who - like everyone in town - has aspirations as an actor and writer. In a neat reversal of his Cosmopolis fortunes he's now driving around the rich and famous.

Whereas Cosmopolis - Cronenberg's previous film - gave us reams of dense dialogue, Maps to the Stars tells its story in bitchy asides, and not so asides, from the blade-sharp pen of Bruce Wagner. The jokes are satisfyingly mean-spirited, but obvious and often aimed at robustly ridiculed targets.

Yet Moore, showing characteristic courage, is a riot of baby talk and backstabbing; petulant and insanely pampered, she's also unafraid to use every weapon in her feminine arsenal, and her desperation to hang onto her fame drips from every pore. She's ably supported by the versatile Wasikowska who chooses her projects from here, there and everywhere on the cinematic spectrum (from Alice in Wonderland to Stoker to Jane Eyre) and looks like she's having a blast as a young woman concealing an unhinged agenda behind a kooky smile.

An act of brutal, explicitly rendered violence reminds us we're watching a film from the Baron of Blood, but what's surprising is that there's an almost of total absence of tension from the great horror director. Some have described Maps to the Stars as too silly but, if anything, it's a fruitcake that could have done with more nuts. Whether it's every moment the maniacal Moore is on screen or Agatha dancing in her long black gloves, it's the crazy that stays with you and there's not near enough of it, meaning Cronenberg's latest doesn't come close to the unforgettable madness of, say, Sunset Boulevard, which it so clearly hopes to emulate.

And, although it's appropriately nasty and an occasional hoot, what's needed is a better, more surprising and substantial plot to elevate matters above simple sniping. There's a sense that Wagner has spent time polishing punchlines when he should have been getting at the meat of the matter. It might take a match to one of its characters in the denouement but Maps to the Stars doesn't really seem all that interested in watching Hollywood burn.

Overleaf: watch the trailer for Maps to the Stars


Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters