Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Maps to the Stars

David Cronenberg has arguably had his time in the spotlight. Since The Fly, there’s not much in his repertoire to earn him a place on the great Hollywood walk of fame he clearly despises. He is so often found focusing on the parasitic nature of humanity, usually in a gory or shocking way, but this time he has taken a (slightly) more subtle approach.

Out now on Blu-Ray and DVD comes Maps to the Stars, a film that slipped under the radar for many, myself included, but it’s a film that will draw in an audience through intrigue, and keep doing so halfway through the movie itself. The plot is confusing on paper, but the way it is presented makes it natural and believable. Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) arrives in Hollywood with the dream of being a full-time assistant to the stars. It’s always interesting to me when the main event of a film has already happened before it starts, think Reservoir Dogs or In Bruges, without the robbery or the child-killing, these films wouldn’t happen, and to focus on fallout is always an interesting (if easy) way to focus on mental state as opposed to physical reaction. In Maps to the Stars, Agatha has suffered a horrific burn. Havana’s (Julianne Moore) mother also tragically died in a fire accident.  Throw in a child actor millionaire druggie whose father is a doctor, and you have a sob story that will put you off by its complexity but surprise you by its delicacy. 

But in a film satirising Hollywood, you’re going to need complexity and shock value. The shock value comes more in the form of creep value with incest thrown in for what seems like the hell of it. But how do you make this even more mocking towards the very industry that helped create this movie? Chuck in a ghost story for good measure. Child drug addict, Benjie, is haunted by visions of a young girl he lied to on her deathbed and Havana is plagued by visions of a young version of her mother. But while this all seems nonsensical and overcompensating, it surprisingly works – most of the time.

Cronenberg has swapped the gasps of horror for gasps of judgement as we frown upon what these fictional characters are doing, but because of the subject matter we treat them as real people. We see Hollywood’s finest having drunken three-ways and engaging in incestual relations, and it’s actually rather fun. We can label these characters as Johnny Depp or Maggie Smith or even the actors themselves – “There goes Julianne Moore visualising her dead mother while trying desperately to have sex.” And then when we laugh. And then we judge ourselves.

Yes, Hollywood is a horrible place and there are horrible people in it, but there are good ones too, and that’s why casting was so important. John Cusack, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson, Julianne Moore – these are people we like (mostly), and thus it makes us pity these characters. We want them to succeed, we want them to become stars and do it their way, and this all sets up a wonderful conclusion. Who is going to suffer in this story? All the signs point to Julianne Moore. Her portrayal was so utterly damning that it becomes almost too tragic to watch. We know that she’s DOA, but we root for her anyway. We want her to achieve what she wants as much as she herself does, and to win over an audience after doing some pretty awful things is impressive, usually you’d have to wield a double-edged lightsaber to do that.

Maps to the Stars sets out to challenge and blow the whistle on its cruel nature, but sometimes it gets confused by its own message. Is it a satire? Is it a thriller? It’s difficult to tell, and sometimes it falls over its own feet, bumbling something about lies and deceit as it wobbles to a stance and brushes itself off. The performances are superb, particularly Moore’s, but it tries to do too much, as if it got carried away and tried to tell too many stories at once.

Maps to the Stars forged its own destiny and gets a 3/5.


Jonny Naylor

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