Sunday, September 28, 2014

“Maps To The Stars”– Movie Review



On the second night of The New York Film Festival, I saw the U.S. Premiere of the new David Cronenberg movie, “Maps To The Stars”, starring Julianne Moore, John Cusak and Robert Pattinson.


While a fading Hollywood star desperately tries to revive her career, she hires a young woman as her new personal assistant – but when the assistant’s hidden agenda gets in the way of her job, will the star’s life and career be at risk?


Havana (Moore), is a beautiful and talented Hollywood actress whose career has been sliding downhill for the past few years.  A one-time award winner, her agent now finds herself struggling to find work for Havana.  Amidst all of this, Havana is also in great need of hiring a new personal assistant when she is introduced to Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), a young woman who has left Florida in order to come to Los Angeles – for what reason, she’s not even sure; despite finding Agatha a bit quirky, Havana hires her immediately.

Upon arrival in Los Angeles, Agatha meets Jerome (Pattinson), an aspiring actor-writer who currently pays the bills by working as a chauffeur.  Over time, the two strike up something of a friendship and eventually wind up dating.  But beyond her work and romantic life, Agatha has other interests which she hasn’t chosen to share with either Havana or Jerome:  she wishes to reunite with her younger brother Benjie (Evan Bird), who is now, although only a teenager, a rather big star in his own right.  Unfortunately, their father, Dr. Stafford Weiss (Cusak), objects to this on the grounds that Agnes is mentally unstable and once tried to hurt Benjie; now that the boy is something of a goose laying the golden egg for his family, Dr. Weiss is being extra careful to make sure no harm comes to his son. 

Benjie has problems of his own as he is haunted by nightmares that may be focusing on his unusual and unnatural relationship with Agatha.  With images from his nightmares being so realistic, he begins acting out in ways that will very likely threaten his livelihood, negatively impacting his already fractured and dysfunctional family.  Later, when Agatha learns of how she was betrayed by a jealous and insecure Havana, she realizes that Havana can no longer be trusted – but with Agatha history of instability, does this mean that Havana’s life is in danger? 


I’m not sure if “Maps To The Stars” is a drama, a comedy (there are some extremely funny moments in writer Bruce Wagner’s screenplay) or a horror movie (how could it not be, given director David Cronenberg’s track record?).  Whatever category it may be, there is one thing that’s for certain:  “Maps To The Stars” is a crazy, daring story that’s wildly entertaining.  When this film played at The Cannes Film Festival, its star Julianne Moore won the festival’s award for best actress; while it was much deserved based on her tragi-comic portrayal of an actress at the end of her rope – if not her career – I have to wonder how well it will be received here in the United States. 

As much of a fun ride as it is for the audience, distribution and acceptance in this country may be difficult due to the fact that it takes such a harsh look at much of Hollywood – both in terms of the show business industry that makes the town click and the narcissists who inhabit that business.  While there certainly have been some successful movies that send up Hollywood, most of them have been done by people who are internal to that system; Cronenberg, however, is something of an outsider – he’s a Canadian and the film is a German-Canadian production.  As outsiders, offense may be taken at the knocks against the American entertainment industry. 

Following the screening, there was a brief question and answer session with Cronenberg, Moore, Wagner and Howard Shore (who composed the score); unfortunately, Shore didn’t get a chance to field too many questions – his music for “Maps To The Stars” was very understated and mysterious.  You barely notice it, which may be the best compliment you can give a soundtrack.  Cronenberg said he wasn’t sure what rating the film would get here in the United States; he was hoping for an R but wouldn’t be surprised if it got an NC-17 (there’s graphic sex and violence aplenty).  Despite many funny jokes in his screenplay, Wagner may have saved the best line of the night when discussing writing; he said that writers often re-visit their previous work, “like dogs circling their own vomit”.   

Maps to the Stars (2014) on IMDb

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