Maps to the Stars is arguably the most polarizing film of the year, but it's one you should see, if you can stomach it.
David Cronenberg’s provocative portrayal of Hollywood chronicles the lives of two dysfunctional families and their encounters with sex, violence and incest. But, according to Cronenberg, it's not satirical, and is about more than celebrity culture.
”It could’ve been a story about Silicon Valley or Wall Street or any intense business that encourages desperation and ambition and fantasy and deception,” he said, at a TIFF press conference. How seductive.
In Maps, Julianne Moore plays panic to perfection as Havana Segrand, an actress and insecure falling star who’s vying to play a role her mother made famous, if she can convince her mother’s ghost (a.k.a. Toronto’s Sarah Gadon, in another scene-stealing turn) to stop haunting her.
In a parallel story, mysterious Mia Wasikowska is Agatha, a drifter who arrives in Los Angeles by bus and is driven by Robert Pattinson’s sympathetic chauffer, Jerome, into Hollywood. Agatha has burn marks on her face, for reasons that will be revealed later. She’s looking to reconnect with her estranged child star brother, Benji (amazingly played by Vancouver’s Evan Bird as Justin Bieber-lite, a young teen who’s already been to rehab for substance abuse issues and is struggling to hold on to the acting franchise that made him a star), stage mom (Olivia Williams) and creepy motivational speaker dad, a loopy John Cusack.
Agatha quickly becomes Havana’s assistant, thanks to a referral from Carrie Fisher in a cameo. Wasikowska describes Agatha as a “perky psychopath,” but she's also a subservient yes-woman desperate for affection from Jerome, or maternal warmth from Havana. Except, she's never going to receive the latter. Havana is a shrill, narcissistic pill popper who peels back the layers of Hollywood glamour and shows how cutthroat actresses can be when competing for a part.
In a world of Blind Riddles, it appears Havana would be the answer for many of them.
Though Havana doesn't have her "pushing down the stairs" moment, her behaviour in the film towards others is deplorable and divisive, yet still sympathetic. She, like Benji, is a product of her hyper-competitive environment. Her sparring with Agatha and ever-evolving list of ludicrous demands become the film's strongest scenes, possibly from the rapport Moore and Wasikowska developed while working on 2010's The Kids are All Right. Nothing Havana does is flattering to her character, or to Moore. She's Marilyn Hack-meets-Crystal Connors, but with more bite. But it's this fearless immersion that won Moore the Best Actress trophy in Cannes and could net her even more awards attention.
In his first film shot partly outside of Canada, Cronenberg reteams with Pattinson, who agreed to star in the film despite not reading the script beforehand. Pattinson's Jerome is the tale's moral compass and skeptic, as his character, a limo driver and aspiring actor, is constantly asked how badly he wants fame, and what he would do to get it. Inspired casting, considering Pattinson's real-life claim to fame remains his Twilight franchise notoriety and pretty face.
Spine-chilling and chock-full of endless tension, Maps' many vignettes are weaved together with expert precision, from what could best be described as "Cronenberg on steroids," in his strongest effort since 2005's A History of Violence.