Maps to the Stars (2015)
dir. David Cronenberg
written by: Bruce Wagner
starring: Mia Wasikowski, Evan Bird, Julianne Moore, John Cusack, Robert Pattinson
2.5 out of 4 stars
The maple laden macabre investigations posed by David Cronenberg explore the more disturbing aspects of life. Tackling deformity, mob tattoos, and auto collision eroticism, Cronenberg has explored dark matter in his career. Now in Maps to the Stars, he delves into the socially disgusting world of Hollywood.
Maps is an ensemble piece, gradually blending the lives of jaded Hollywood, manipulative personalities, mental illness, and physical deformation. There is far too much going on here. Every bit of the cast is hateful and disturbed, playing caricatures with mixed success. Possibly headlining, or seeming to draw everyone together, is Mia Wasikowska as Agatha, a woman recently moved to Hollywood after a scarring fire. This another role where they keep trying to make her a psycho nymph, and it keeps not working. She encounters a limo driver (Robert Pattinson, flat and forgettable), a psychiatrist (John Cusack), a brat child star (Evan Bird, obnoxious and pretentious, befitting the part), and a star clinging to her career (Julianne Moore).
The script is over-the-top with simply terrible people at every turn. Everyone in adulthood is “menopausal” and everyone is extremely messed up. Bruce Wagner, using his experiences as a Hollywood driver, develops a story where you rightfully hate everyone. Everyone hallucinates; everyone is obsessed with themselves. Maybe that is his Hollywood, but it made me want to turn on the movie.
Thankfully, we have expectedly strong performances from Julianne Moore and John Cusack. Moore, pretty much the opposite of her Oscar winning Still Alice role (but even her lesbian characters are noticeably different: The Kids are All Right vs Freeheld), Moore channels an emotionally disturbed actress, landing her a Golden Globe nomination last year. Beyond her tabloid ready voice and oozing sexual vulnerability, Moore allows herself to let completely loose. A scene of meditative screaming and crying exhibits an ability to both let go and contain herself that seems foreign to a less seasoned actress.
Cusack counteracts Moore’s fragility with his Stockholm Syndroming psychiatrist. Stepping far away from his teen movie roots, Cusack has found himself quite successful as a creepy and/or troubled adult, doubling up here and in Love & Mercy. In Maps, he is despicable; I really hate his character, and it is one of his best performances. He’s cruel and abusive while masked in a Tom Cruise in Magnolia-style celebrity, preying on the distraught. Seeing him play a villain, one can hardly remember he used to be a quirky love interest.
This is a movie I assure I’m not alone in a mixed perception. Darkly comic and unsettling, but simply uncomfortable in its own skin. What some, including Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers, found to be a sensational romp was perceived by me to be an overwrought spectacle with some redeeming points. Beautiful cinematography and a good Howard Shore score aided to make the production admirable, and Moore and Cusack as previously mentioned, but I would not place this one as a suggestion outside of die hard Cronenberg and -esque fans.