Embracing the Melodrama #124: Maps to the Stars (dir by David Cronenberg)


Maps_to_the_Stars_posterI have to admit that, for the most petty of reasons, I was dreading the 2014 release of David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars.  

This was despite the fact that I happen to be a big fan of just about everyone in the cast and David Cronenberg as a director.  (I still say that Cosmopolis is one of the best films of the decade and I don’t care who disagrees.)

My initial issue with Maps to the Stars — and again, I admit this is really petty — was that Sasha Stone, over the Awards Daily web site, was so damn fanatical about singing the film’s praises.  I have a theory that Sasha tends to overpraise certain films specifically so she can have an excuse to get angry and go off on a rant when they don’t receive any Oscar nominations.  Ever since Sasha went batshit crazy over The King’s Speech beating The Social Network, Awards Daily has pretty much gone from being a site about the Oscars to being a site about Sasha screaming in the wilderness like a biblical prophet (and not one of the interesting biblical prophets, like Elijah.  We’re talking about Haggai here.)  From what I had read about Maps To The Stars and judging from the response that it got at Cannes (where, despite mixed reviews, it did win an award when Julianne Moore was named best actress), this film seemed like the epitome of another deliberate lost cause.

Fortunately, the release date of Maps To The Stars was moved to 2015 and civilization was spared from having to deal with a thousand “If Cronenberg doesn’t get an Oscar, society is doomed!” rants.  Instead, we had to deal with a thousand “If Hillary Swank doesn’t win for The Homesman, society is doomed!” rants.

“Okay,” you’re saying, “that’s great Lisa.  Thank you for whatever all that was.  But what about the movie itself!?  Is it any good?”

Eh … I guess.

I mean, Maps to The Stars isn’t a bad movie.  It’s not bad at all.  It’s just maddeningly uneven.

One of my favorite up-and-coming stars, Mia Wasikowska, has a great role in it.  She plays a schizophrenic, named Agatha, who comes to Hollywood.  Agatha’s arms and the back of her neck are covered with burn scars and she is always taking pills.  She is also obsessed with a vile teen star named Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird).  There’s more to her obsession than you might originally think.

Benjie, meanwhile, has just gotten out of rehab and he is literally one of the worst characters ever.  The film does try to build up some sympathy for him by revealing just how fucked up his home life is.  His fragile mother (Olivia Williams) always seems to be on the verge of collapse.  His father (John Cusack) is a glib and shallow psychologist.  Benjie serves as a stand-in for every child star who has been destroyed by Hollywood.  Unfortunately, the film devotes so much time to Benjie being a monster that it never really allows us to see why Benjie’s a star in the first place.  Evan Bird gives such a boring, uninteresting, and flat performance that you never really buy the idea of Benjie could be a success.  (Say what you will about Justin Bieber, he does at least have a cute smile.  Evan Bird can’t even claim that.)

Agatha meets a lot of people in Hollywood, including a limo driver (Robert Pattinson) who is an aspiring screenwriter.  She eventually gets a job working for actress Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore).  Havana, herself the daughter of a legendary and self-destructive actress, is a monster but — unlike, Benjie — she’s a sympathetic monster.  She’s a talented actress who grew up in Hollywood and now, because she’s no longer in her 20s, is being discarded by Hollywood.  Havana is as much a victim as a victimizer.

Anyway, the film kinda wanders about.  Along with all the other stuff going on, the characters are regularly visited by ghosts.  Secrets are revealed.  Hearts are broken.  Lives are lost.  And yes, relevant points about Hollywood are made but … well, so what?   There’s nothing in Maps to the Stars that you couldn’t learn from rewatching Sunset Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard is a lot less pretentious.  Plus, William Holden was a much better actor than Evan Bird.

As for Cronenberg’s direction — well, Maps to the Stars is definitely David Cronenberg on autopilot.  It’s filled with identifiable Cronenberg touches.  The emphasis placed on Agatha’s scars, for instance, is trademark Cronenberg.  But still, Cronenberg’s direction often just seems to be going through the motions.  Unlike his work in the far more interesting and challenging Cosmopolis (not to mention Eastern Promises), Cronenberg doesn’t really seem to care that much about the story that he’s telling.

Maps to the Stars is worth watching for the performances of Julianne Moore and Mia Wasikowska.  Otherwise, it’s just another well-made but only occasionally interesting Hollywood melodrama.

5 responses to “Embracing the Melodrama #124: Maps to the Stars (dir by David Cronenberg)

  1. “Ever since Sasha went batshit crazy over The King’s Speech beating The Social Network, Awards Daily has pretty much gone from being a site about the Oscars to being a site about Sasha screaming in the wilderness like a biblical prophet (and not one of the interesting biblical prophets, like Elijah. We’re talking about Haggai here.) ”

    I got my money’s worth out of this review just for that paragraph alone.

    Liked by 1 person

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