“Maps to the Stars” Movie Review

     Director David Cronenberg has accomplished quite a transformation during his film career that has seen him create eighties horror classics such as “Scanners”(1981), “The Dead Zone” (1983), and “The Fly” (1986), only to move on later in his career with notable thrillers like “A History of Violence” (2005) and “Eastern Promises” (2007).  Incidentally, his mid career film, “Crash” 1996, which was a story about people who get off sexually after being involved in car crashes was so oddball, I’m not even really sure where to categorize it. I found his latest offering, a limited theatrical and video on demand release called “Maps to the Stars” as kind of a head scratcher when compared to his previous work.  Though the film boasts a mostly A-list cast that includes recent Oscar winner Julianne Moore, Robert Pattinson, and John Cusack, the production seemed slapped together with shoddy production values and what must’ve been a lower than normal budget.  Even more strange is the feeling Cronenberg chose to abandon his own style of filmmaking in favor of doing something more along the lines of a Brian DePalma film that is intentionally trying to either rip off or pay homage to Hitchcock.

     You don’t have to wonder what screenwriter Bruce Wagner thinks of the various players in Hollywood these days, because his script here says it all.  The characters in “Maps to the Stars” are poster children for a meme that might read “White People Problems” in that they live in the lap of sheer luxury at all times and yet still spend the majority of their days sniveling about their careers and personal lives to the point they need therapy.  At the center of all this is over the hill actress Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore) who spends her days dwelling on past glory and pretending she is still actually somebody while parading around tinseltown.  Forever living in the shadow of her dead mother, who herself was once a famous young actress, Havana is now up for a film role that would have her portray her mother on screen.  Though she spends copious amounts of time whoring around with various agents and industry insiders in order to increase her chances, she soon learns the role has gone to another actress, leaving her in a disturbed state of mind.

     We are also introduced to another “struggling” Hollywood family that just seems to be having a hell of time dealing with their child star son, Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird), earning $300,000 for every episode he films of a long running TV series.  His father, Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), is a noted Hollywood therapist and self help guru whose methods that we see on screen seem to be nothing less than ludicrous.  His mother, Christina Weiss (Olivia Williams), is a constant wreck and seems one step away from going off the deep end during every frame we see her on screen.  In fact, there is nary a moment when one of these characters isn’t weeping within their own self loathing existence while surrounded by homes and furnishings that look as if they were just photographed by Better Homes & Gardens.  It’s really difficult to feel sorry for them, especially when it appears each controls their own fate, if not for some really bad decision making.  It doesn’t help matters that all of them are cut throat and self serving to the point they would be willing to do anything if it meant they could be successful one more time.

     Early in the film, we are introduced to a character named Agatha Weiss (Mia Wasikowska), who functions as the device normally seen in Robert Altman’s films that bring together two or more groups of people that didn’t necessarily know each other in the beginning.  Agatha is a tortured soul.  Her appearance has a certain innocence, but there is mystery in the obvious scars from severe burns on the left side of her face and the clothing she wears unnecessarily in order to hide the more severe scars on her body.  She is the daughter of Stafford and Christine, who apparently banished her away to Florida years before after she tried to kill herself and her family by setting their home on fire.  Now 18, she’s back in Los Angeles and guess who hires her as a personal assistant?  Yep. Havana Segrand.

     From there Cronenberg revels in various conversational set pieces that use the kind of dialogue that would indicate everyone on screen is in some way up to no good.  Benjie, barely a teen himself, is as snotty and disrespectful as any child character you would ever see in a film and his antics prove to be the cause for the downward spiral his parents have been in for quite sometime, especially when Agatha arrives with a key piece of knowledge that has been hidden away for years.  Though the script could’ve used some fine tuning, each actor proves quite capable of carrying these scenes, especially Moore, whose emotionally charged performance mirrors several she has given over the years.  If only Cronenberg could’ve secured more dollars for the project, perhaps we would’ve been spared special effects so horrendous they could’ve been done by a novice using a desk top and copy of After Effects.  It’s examples like this which give “Maps to the Stars” a cheap looking exterior wrapped around an otherwise solid premise.