Thursday, May 4, 2017

Maps to the Stars

How deeply and luridly fascinating it was to watch 2014's MAPS TO THE STARS, to witness director David Cronenberg's view of Tinseltown dysfunction to the max.  Often, American culture is more clearly viewed through the eyes of an outsider.   To wit, Cronenberg had never shot a single scene in the U.S. until this movie, even though some of his previous were set here.   With a blueprint by Hollywood sorta-insider Bruce Wagner, this movie had the potential to be trashy fun.  In Cronenberg's hands, it's a clinical dissection of hollowed souls who have taken any leave of compassion for others and exist only to survive.  Like subterranean foragers.  SUNSET BOULEVARD with elements of astrology and a supply of Valium.

The characters in MAPS TO THE STARS all cross paths at some point.  Some are related to each other.  One, Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) has just arrived to L.A. after years in a sanitarium in Florida.  She seems kinda off, nihilistic.  She intrigues and repels a limo driver/wannabe actor and screenwriter named Jerome (Robert Pattinson).  Benjie (Evan Bird) is a bratty, severely disturbed child star/teen idol who already feels washed up, and has already done time in rehab.  His mother Christina (Olivia Williams) is one of those intense stage parents who manages his career.  Christina's husband is Dr. Stanford Weiss (John Cusack), television psychologist/author/lecturer/bogus healer who has genuinely washed up actress Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore) as a patient.

These characters have deep, dark, ugly secrets.  Incest is involved.  Drugs, too, of course.  At least two characters are regularly visited by ghosts.  Some are trying to achieve and/or hold on to fame.  Isn't everyone in Hollywood? The barbs are not easy satire, or just a parade of celebrity cameos (aside from Carrie Fisher, who is integral to the plot).  The seeming collision of Cronenberg and Wagner's points of view somehow gel to create a consistently fascinating, pitch black nightmare that casts its harsh light of interrogation right into the cores of these people.  People who sing and dance when they learn a rival actor's child has died 'cause now they'll get that coveted role for sure, who manipulate others' insecurities and lifelong neuroses and get paid for it, who are driven by a mission to pay for past sins by attempting to "make things right", or at least finish what they started in the first place.

There is plenty of wicked humor, much of it via Moore, who is dynamite.  I imagine her portrayal of a fading starlet living in the shadow of a famous mother is pretty dead on.  Her diva like behavior, her failure at a threesome ("I'm a lousy dyke") and even a moment of constipation wring knowing laughter.  She even gets a MOMMIE DEAREST-type moment. Surely the filmmakers meant an homage? Someone getting bludgeoned to death with an award is also a pretty potent image of life in the fast lane.  Possibly says it all.

P.S. Twenty demerits to Cronenberg for what is one of the worst uses of CGI seen in a movie of this caliber.  Watch for it near the end.

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