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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Maps to the Stars movie review: kill it with fire

Maps to the Stars green light

Quite hilarious in a deeply disturbing way that you won’t want to look straight on at, lest it forever ruin you as a lover of movies.
I’m “biast” (pro): mostly like Cronenberg’s work, love the cast

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Oh, did you have dreams of going to Hollywood, becoming a star, and living happily ever after? Maps to the Stars will put paid to them. This is one of Canadian horror auteur David Cronenberg’s (Cosmopolis, Eastern Promises) least trippy films: it’s hardly surreal at all. Which makes it all too plausible as it looks askew at the living nightmares that are the lives of the Weiss family of Los Angeles, all of whom are deeply entrenched in the industry. Except the one thing they think is horrific — and it’s pretty bad — is the least of their issues: they don’t even seem to recognize how appalling they are. Maps is actually quite hilarious in a deeply disturbing way that you won’t want to look straight on at, lest it forever ruin you as a lover of movies, to be left with the nagging suspicion that the people who make the magic really are this messed up.

There’s Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird: Chained), who, at 13 years old, is already a veteran of rehab, which has The Studio worried that he may be a threat to the Bad Babysitter idiot-comedy franchise he is attached to; Benjie doesn’t have auditions, he has urine tests. (This is a world in which people talk earnestly about “protecting the franchise,” and where the likes of Benjie drop the names of other celebs their sobriety sponsors have worked with.) Benjie is a terrible human being: obnoxious, racist, ignorant, misogynistic, and homophobic, all of which we learn in our first few moments in his presence. Mom Christina (Olivia Williams: Sabotage (2014), Anna Karenina) talks contracts and numbers with her son, and not much else. (This is a world in which a decent global box office taking is a security blanket.) Dad Stafford (John Cusack: Drive Hard, Grand Piano) is a self-help guru and therapist to the stars who nevertheless instructs others not to ask him any “film noir questions” that might hint at why he does the things he does; he’s not much into actual communication, just a parody of it.

One of Stafford’s clients is neurotically insecure actress Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore: Non-Stop, Carrie), who is desperate to get cast in a movie “reimagining” of a film her deceased cult-figure actress mom made decades back. Even though she hates her mother and is haunted by a taunting specter of her (Sarah Gadon: Dracula Untold, The Amazing Spider-Man 2). Her new personal assistant is Agatha (Mia Wasikowska: The Double, Tracks), just off the bus from Florida and loaded with demented secrets, one of which she spills to her new friend Jerome (Robert Pattinson: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2, Cosmopolis), a limo driver and — of course — wannabe actor and writer.

Jerome doesn’t even blink in the face of Agatha’s secret, possibly because he thinks she’s a crazy person telling made-up stories just to be outrageous. It goes with all the fake sincerity of the nasty, shallow people who populate this terrible place. The incestuousness of this insular community is literal; the ghoulishness of these people is palpable. The thoughtless idiocy is a tribal marker. There is a thrilling kind of glee in the performances of the old hands: Cusack and Moore left me with the sense that they had been aching for years to be this free and this honest. The youngsters — Wasikowska and Pattinson — seem to be reveling in the lack of constraints. The script, by Bruce Wagner, is delighted to be shaking off Hollywood’s own fantasies about itself in recent decades. (I can’t recall a film this nasty and bitter and cynical about Hollywood in my lifetime.) Maybe that means no one on or behind the screen has become the self-obsessed monsters these people are. It’s a nice thought, anyway.


See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Maps to the Stars for its representation of girls and women.


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Maps to the Stars (2014)
US/Can release: Feb 27 2015 (VOD same day)
UK/Ire release: Sep 26 2014

MPAA: rated R for strong disturbing violence and sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some drug material
BBFC: rated 18 (strong sex, sexual abuse references, violence, very strong language)

viewed at a public multiplex screening

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • LaSargenta

    Wow. Saw this yesterday. Am still kind of reeling from it.

    Ultimately, when I talked about it with others who haven’t seen it yet, I said “it’s a real Cronenberg film”. I’m not sure how to talk about it yet.

    Did you find the end redemptive? (No spoilers!)

  • Danielm80

    I think it’s a movie about people who are always creating false identities: The characters they play in films and the “public faces” they adopt for interviews and industry meetings. The only way they can express their actual feelings is by creating more identities, in the form of ghosts who act out their deepest, and most destructive, desires. So maybe the ending was about creating another fantasy that would destroy the other identities.

  • Redemptive? Perhaps for the characters, though it’s not a pleasant redemption. I felt sort of… I’m not sure yet. Like you, I’m having a hard time digesting it all. In a good way. :-)

  • LaSargenta

    Yeah, for the characters. Definitely not pleasant, but real redemption rarely is, anyhow, I think. Agatha seemed like the moral center of the story…a difficult moral center, but it was her, nonetheless.

    POSSIBLE SPOILER TO FOLLOW:

    Personal Note: I know and care about someone who has paranoid schizophrenia; the visions in the movie and the way the various people were dealing with them brought to mind many conversations I’ve had over the years with that friend. I know it isn’t referred to head-on, but I think that condition is present in the story, at least as metaphor.

  • Joe Schmoe

    With Agatha as their moral center, they are all doomed

  • LaSargenta

    Well, yeah!

    That’s why it’s a Cronenberg film.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Seventeen years after Being John Malkovich and we’re still being asked to be shocked at the woes of Hollywood’s rich and famous?

  • Joe Schmoe

    Well in a way he was right, the rest of her family was even more effed as she was, and Havana was trash too.
    But Mia is well on her way to being typecast as the crazy psycho woman

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