Mar 2, 2015

Maps To The Stars

The evil sister to Birdman, this bitterly vicious satire by David Cronenberg, based on a novel by Bruce Wagner, is happily, and like Cronenberg's best films, a movie about human horror. Maps To The Stars is about the needy, insecure, monstrously warped egos inbred by Hollywood culture, but in contrast to the genial Birdman, which is a feel-good movie in which vanity motivates creativity, Maps To The Stars is about egos so selfish and diseased they sow nothing but destruction.
The movie is at times clunky, the story and its symbolism are heavy handed and not clearly mapped out. The script strains to organize the complicated plot, in which the central metaphor is incest. The writing (the script is adapted by Wagner from his novel) is uneven. The satire is sharp but the plot is fuzzy. Still, Cronenberg meanders down extremely dark, uncomfortable places and summons his formidable capacity to shock.
More than just a facile look at Hollywood's notorious nastiness, Maps To The Stars is like a Freudian funhouse. It's a labyrinth of selves untethered by decency, empathy or common sense, that leads back to what made them sick in the first place, a recurring nightmare. Fame + Money = Crazy. Maps To The Stars makes Birdman look like a kiddie ride at Disneyland. The ignorant filth that comes out of the mouths of teenage actors in this movie makes the hacked Sony emails sound like they were written by Emily Post.
A spectacular Julianne Moore, winner of the Best Actress prize at Cannes, plays Havana Segrand, a hilariously vapid, damaged, prematurely fading movie star. Havana is the product of a traumatic childhood, courtesy of her dead movie star mother, who she believes or fantasizes, it isn't clear which, sexually abused her as a child. This being Hollywood, a remake is being made of the movie that made her mother famous, and of course, Havana wants to play her mom like a cat chasing its tail.
A hot mess of insecurity and narcissism, Moore is pitch perfect as an emotionally tortured character who boasts the casual cruelty of the utterly self-involved, complete with perky boobs and a perfect L.A. accent. She is scarily good. Havana is not the main character in the movie, but Moore steals it, and you realize how much you miss her whenever she is not onscreen. I am kind of freaking out at the Jungian implications of the same actress playing the Alzheimer's ridden neurosurgeon of Still Alice the same year as this crazy Hollywood bimbo. In my humble opinion, she won the Oscar for the wrong movie. Those endearing journalists from the Golden Globes got it right when they nominated her for both films. Not to take anything away from her sensational work in Still Alice, but her turn as Havana Segrand is an equally brave tour de force. She goes through every feeling, genuine and fake, known to man. She is, as they say in this movie, beyond.
An excellent John Cusack plays Stafford Weiss, a wealthy self-help guru who, in true self-help guru fashion, only cares about his book tour, even as his family collapses around him. Cusack approaches the phony he plays with icily controlled glee. Stafford gives expensive and painful massages and whispers psycho-spiritual mumbo jumbo to clueless stars who confuse his shtick with therapy.
Weiss has spawned a little monster, Benjie (the creepily good Evan Bird), a Bieber-like bundle of nastiness; a rotten, entitled kid who makes millions for his incompetent parents by working in crappy sequels and sitcoms. In comes the mysterious Agatha (Mia Wasikowska, excellent, as usual) all the way from Florida, with burn scars in her face. She lands a job as Havana's personal assistant, thanks to her close Twitter "friend" Carrie Fisher, who appears as herself in a perversely funny cameo. Down this Tinseltown rabbit hole everyone is connected, not only through schmoozing, name-dropping and other, more sexual activities, but by virtue of sharing the same nightmares and stories; by virtue of the ongoing incest between the movies, the lives, rehabs and deaths of movie stars, and the starfucking of executives, wannabes and audiences.
Cronenberg pulls no punches satirizing low hanging fruit like these Hollywood types, but as a master of horror he is not content with just skewering a town that skewers everybody for a living. There is something visceral in his judgement. What to make of Benjie's mother (Olivia Williams), who both pimps out her child and lets him abuse her, refusing to set a single lousy boundary? And she is not alone. Every adult is powerless around Benjie. This kid is a cash cow, hence he can be vile to everyone.
As comical as Havana is, her life is painful, lonely, full of drugs and debasement, even as she goes on eighteen thousand dollar shopping sprees.  The kids in this movie are so beyond help, it's actually shocking. Hollywood is shown to be such a den of iniquity that only violent, vengeful purification is in order. Maps To The Stars is a welcome addition to the wonderful genre of acid movies about Hollywood like Sunset Blvd., The Player, and Mulholland Drive, and if it's not quite as polished as these movies, it is deliciously disturbing.

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