By Ezra Stead
Maps to the Stars, Canada / Germany / France / USA, 2014
Directed by David Cronenberg
If A Dangerous Method (the end of the Viggo Mortensen trilogy as I like to call it, the first two being A History of Violence and Eastern Promises) shows David Cronenberg at his most respectable, and Cosmopolis presents the Canadian director at his most unwatchable, his latest manages to avoid both of those traps. A sleazy, trashy, dark comedy about the amoral self-absorption of Hollywood, Maps to the Stars is gleefully disreputable and never less than entertaining. However, it lacks the narrative focus and thematic bite to rank among Cronenberg’s best films.
The most coherent and interesting thread to be found amongst the rather large, interconnected ensemble concerns an aging actress (Julianne Moore) angling for the part played by her now deceased mother in a remake of one of the latter’s classic films. She hires an assistant (Mia Wasikowska) who has been disfigured by burns in a house fire she herself started. The mentor-protégé relationship gradually sours to the point of a rather shocking conclusion, and an earlier scene in which the pair sing and dance in celebration of the tragic death of another actress’s small child is easily the funniest moment in the film.
Meanwhile, other subplots featuring John Cusack, Olivia Williams and Robert Pattinson, as well as frequent name-drops of such millennial signifiers as Twitter and Justin Bieber, all feel rather tacked-on and pointless. The name-drops have seemingly been added to make the movie feel modern and relevant, while the subplots (heavy on sexual indiscretions of various sorts) seem to have been added for the sake of cheap shock value. The heart of the movie is Wasikowska’s self-destructive fascination with Moore, and all else comes off as extraneous.
The most easily jettisoned element, it seems to me, would be the frequent appearance of ghosts that haunt Moore, Cusack and other characters. Much as I would love to see Cronenberg return to the horror genre that yielded most of his best work, these pseudo-Freudian supernatural elements just don’t fit in with what is otherwise a dark satire of Hollywood. The parts of the film that work best are not exactly naturalistic, but they are grounded in a recognizable reality, and the ghosts just seem silly in this context.
The biggest problem with this movie is that it never completely embraces its own trashiness. Though it seems pretty satisfied with its supposed takedown of Hollywood, it pulls some pretty big punches and never really offers any fresh insight. At its best, it calls to mind the novel High Life, by Matthew Stokoe, which pulls no punches and is certainly not for the weak of heart or stomach, but it lacks that novel’s narrative verve as well as its total embrace of the trashy and horrible. Maps to the Stars is effective at lingering with the viewer, but the more thought is put into getting it, the more frustrating and disappointing it becomes.
Ezra Stead is the Head Editor for MoviesIDidn’tGet.com. Ezra is also a screenwriter, actor, filmmaker, rapper, and aspiring stand-up comic who has been previously published in print and online, as well as writing, directing and acting in numerous short films and two features. A Minneapolis native, Ezra currently lives in New York City.
For more information, please contact EzraStead@MoviesIDidntGet.com