David Cronenberg’s “Maps to the Stars”

Maps-to-the-StarsIf you were to jump in your car right now and drive up into space to see the stars up close and personal, you would not get there in your lifetime. You therefore won’t ever have the chance to watch them collapse into black holes. Not to worry, though, for Hollywood has always been the topmost example of life imitating astronomy. Maps to the Stars doesn’t so much remind us of this as it gleefully beats it into us with a cinderblock, spinning a Cronenbergian web of incest, sex, egoism, and murder. Little things like that.

Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore) is a middle-aged, washed-up actress who is hellbent on reprising the lead role in a remake of a 1960s film that starred her late mother, Clarice Taggart, who perished young in a fire, and of whom Havana also suffers regular hallucinations. She is therefore a client of Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), a TV self-help guru armed with Jimmy Swaggart sincerity and cardboard aphorisms like “If you can name it, you can tame it.” His method of treatment is to massage out her agonizing memories as if forcing that last bit of toothpaste from the tube.

Stafford is no stranger to show business either. His wife, Cristina (Olivia Williams), is the perpetually uptight momager of their young son Benjie (Evan Bird), a Bieberesque toerag of a child star. Unbeknownst to them, however, older daughter Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) is back in town, following a stay in a Florida sanatorium after having burned down the family home. Since this circle of humanity is required to ultimately connect, Havana suddenly needs a new “chore whore,” and through a convenient mutual connection with— of all people— Carrie Fisher, Agatha lands the job. (“I met her on Twitter,” she boasts.)

It took bait like Still Alice for Moore to finally hook her Oscar, evident after watching Havana, with satellite-dish sunglasses and stringy Lohan-ish blond ’do, whining up a vigorous pity party into her iPhone. It’s little wonder she and the Weiss offspring grab the spoils in Bruce Wagner’s lovingly deranged script. Agatha harbors some kind of connection to each character, and though a schizophrenic under a boatload of meds, she is arguably the least dangerous, with Wasikowska toeing her familiar fine line of sincerity and creepiness. It’s young Canadian actor Bird who is the revelation here, hoisting the task onto his tiny shoulders of growing Benjie beyond a one-dimensional jerk who mistakes a young cancer patient’s ailment for AIDS during a PR-stunt hospital visit. Benjie transmogrifies from the abrasive star of the Bad Babysitter franchise, fresh out of drug rehab at all of thirteen, to a tragic figure who discovers for the first time in his short life being faced with the consequences of his actions, despite being hampered by Wagner’s nagging plot devices (Benjie also sees dead people, for whatever reason) and frequent evocation of the 1942 Paul Éluard poem Liberty. Perhaps the greatest takeaway from Maps is not so much its alluring sardonicism, but rather its timing: it hit U.S. theaters just five days after Hollywood’s annual Bacchanalia of self-congratulation. No business like it, indeed.

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Categories: Reviews

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Podcast Episode #9: “Maps to the Stars” | Filmbalaya.com - March 12, 2015

    […] “Maps to the Stars” Review by Nancy Travisano […]

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