Thursday 3 May 2018

Movie Review: Maps To The Stars (2014)

A satirical drama set in Hollywood, Maps To The Stars is tonally scattered and never gains traction.

Havana (Julianne Moore) is a fading actress now struggling to get parts. She is the daughter of famous actress Clarice Taggart (Sarah Gordon), who died young in a fire. Havana is frequently haunted by her mother's ghost, and is desperate to get the lead role in a remake of Clarice's greatest film triumph.

Benjie (Evan Bird) is a child actor attempting a comeback after struggling with behaviour and addiction issues. His career is managed by his mother Cristina (Olivia Williams) and father Stafford (John Cusack), a self-help guru to the stars. Havana is one of Stafford's clients, and Benjie also shares the same agent with Havana. Burn victim Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) arrives in Hollywood, meets dishy limousine driver Jerome (Robert Pattinson), and gets a job as Havana's new assistant. But there is more to Agatha's story, and her history with Benjie's family will have far reaching ramifications.

Directed by David Cronenberg, Maps To The Stars contains plenty of barbs aimed squarely at the plastic, self-obsessed, youth-dominated and overly dramatic Hollywood set. But inside jokes, generally delivered with no wit, are far from sufficient, and the film quickly stalls then dies.

It is clear early that Maps To The Stars does not know what story it wants to tell, nor why. Cronenberg and writer Bruce Wagner steer the film in multiple directions at once, from Havana's over-the-top histrionics to Benjie's calamitous hubris passing through Stafford's pop psychology. More than one ghost fade in and out of the story, and themes of incest and fire intermingle with snippets of profound poetry in a doomed attempt to find meaning.

By the time Agatha's story takes center stage in the final third, it's too late to save the film. Cronenberg defaults to his old career standbys of gore, blood and violence. The sudden turn to shock therapy is a misfit with the preceding rhythms, and adds to the wildly uneven narrative.

The performances lack subtlety, with Moore, Cusack and Bird playing exaggerated caricatures of the desperately fading star, the full-of-baloney mentor, and the braggart child actor hopelessly spoiled by early wealth. Hollywood may be populated by exceptionally irritating people exactly like this, and while they may deserve the cathartic endings Cronenberg chooses for them, he never succeeds in making the audience care, either way.

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