Directed by David Cronenberg
Written by Bruce Wagner
Starring Julianne Moore, John Cusack, Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska
A tour into the heart of a Hollywood family chasing celebrity, one another and the
relentless ghosts of their pasts.
I don’t know, it may be the sight of Julianne Moore looking needy and a touch too much helter-skelter that puts me in mind of Magnolia. Different film, different character, same bottle-necked emotional tension just waiting to ejaculate all over everything in its path.
Cronenberg clearly has a man-crush on Robert Pattinson, despite the entirely lukewarm response they received the last time they teamed up, on Cosmopolis, a project that sealed Cronenberg’s reputation as someone who had done great things before and was still really trying to find a new direction. He hadn’t quite convinced us that he was out of those woods last time around, and is not much nearer here either. Look at his CV ladies and gentlemen, and try to convince anyone who has a clue that his recent output is even worthy of his own name.
Here, Cronenberg turns his rather obtuse view to the Hollywood machine and the people in it. Naturally, his stereotypical (some might say, privileged) opinion of his characters says alot more about his thoughts on Hollywood than about the characters themselves who are mostly hollowed out husks of real individuals, to the point where you wonder just how anti-partisan his beliefs are on the subject. As if ringing the bell of emotional mediocrity so that everyone knows he had nothing to do with the leprosy that he is clearly using as inspiration, he is distancing himself by his actions from the industry he inexplicably still benefits from.
As a backdrop, this place is as good a location as any to make comment about how everyone, everywhere falls foul of the same problems. Greed, lust, paranoia and fear are universal constants in beings less than perfect, but displaying this lack of virtue in Hollywood just makes it feel more glamorous and therefore sordid.
And Wagner’s script is littered with the imperfect and mostly unlikeable, not only passing comment on the reality of weakness but also the demands of perfection from an audience raised on photoshopped fakes dressed up as both inspiration and aspiration, making fools of those that buy into the ideal as well as those that pursue it for the purposes of profit. In this respect, the story is aptly monickered.
Agatha Weiss (Wasikowska) is returning home to Los Angeles from Florida, after spending time first in a burns unit and then a mental hospital following a fire in the family home which she both started and became a surprise victim of. Now estranged and excommunicated from her family, she returns with the intention of apologising for her previous deeds, seemingly hoping for forgiveness from her father (Cusack), Mother (Olivia Williams) and actor brother Benjie (Evan Bird) who is in the process of negotiating a deal on a sequel to a massively successful film in which he previously starred. As a young man with only professional success posing as experience, this makes for a rather ugly and toxic cocktail of bravado, over-confidence and, well, just plain old-fashioned precociousness.
Wagner’s attempts at representation of a warts and all story of the rich and sometimes famous is, it must be said, fitting for Cronenberg’s disembodied and ambiguous approach to heart and soul feature direction. Cronenberg has a quantifiable problem with delivering real character development or imbibing characters with anything more than a lustre which rarely delves more than skin deep. His humanity is facile and cloned, a feature which he seems to enjoy and takes most satisfaction from.
The problem here is that there is little grace to be saved from a cast of characters that are so unfinished and brutally selfish. When humanity is so barren, any audience with anything resembling a heart will want and need at least a tiny portion of humanity, a soupcon of soul, to get by on. Unfortunately, Cronenberg is either oblivious to this need, or just simply refuses to supply it. To his eternal credit, it is most likely the latter will be the case.
Maps To The Stars is clinical and exceedingly well directed by an auteur that continues to ruffle the feathers. It lacks alot of soul and will probably offend more than a handful with portrayals of characters that are, if anything, hyper-real and subsequently unbelievable and unlikeable in equal measure. Purely as a piece of entertainment is it practically hateful, but as a piece of cinematic art, it scores much more highly. Good performances by most allow Cronenberg to get away, once again, with biting the hand that feeds, in more ways than one.