by Philip Price
I don’t understand the intent of satire if not to criticize and expose the stupidity of others with the inflicted idea of how to correct such stupidity. I’m not saying everyone who pokes fun of something has to have a solution for how it shouldn’t be funny, but while director David Cronenberg’s latest, “Maps to the Stars,” is most definitely intended to be satire it certainly has no intention of being funny and with that one would expect it to have something more to say than the comments it hands out. If you’ve been watching movies for any amount of time you will come to realize the one thing Hollywood loves more than money is itself and so the indie kings, the rebellious filmmakers and those who generally defy the system consistently mock it for never allowing them the artistic expression to do as they please. To this point, I’m not one who is overly-keen on Cronenberg’s work (though I admittedly haven’t seen much) and so before you read any further know there is a bit of a grudge present because despite hearing promising things from the time I really began investing critical thinking in films (“A History of Violence”) I have come to be slightly disappointed with the results of what has been praised. Again, his last couple efforts (“Cosmopolis” and “A Dangerous Method”) have admittedly not been his most well-received, but while I knew I was experiencing something different with both ‘Violence’ and “Eastern Promises” I didn’t necessarily dig what I was seeing either. Maybe I didn’t “get” what Cronenberg was going for, it’s easy to dismiss it as such, but in giving a valid effort to want to like every film I watch I typically come away with something whether I feel a movie is good or bad, but the majority of the time I walk away from a Cronenberg picture I simply feel frustrated. I know there is plenty more to see between what I’ve heard about “Scanners” and “The Fly,” but why should I feel intrigued when the other products this company has produced haven’t been satisfactory? “Maps to the Stars” is no different in that it features a singular style and voice, but more disappointing here is the fact we’ve seen this kind of satire before and so this typically unique perspective doesn’t even feel fresh.
Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore) is a spoiled and self-obsessed actress who seems to have lost her credibility and been out of the game to the point she is clamoring for any kind of recognition. She is especially desperate for a role that her long-deceased mother played when she was young and beautiful in what I’m assuming was the sixties given it tells us she died tragically in a fire in 1976. The ghost of Havana’s mother, Clarice (Sarah Gadon), haunts her every dream. There is talk of sexual abuse between Havana and her mother that she is unable to recover from in Havana’s sessions with Stafford Weiss (John Cusack) who seems to be little more than a self-help hack. Cusack’s character segways us to the other half of the film by introducing us to his family that includes his wife (and sister) Cristina (Olivia Williams) who mainly looks after the career of their newly-teenage son Benjie (Evan Bird) who is a child star already recovering from a drug addiction. Before we meet any of these screwed up, egotistical jokes though we are introduced to Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) who meets a limo driver and aspiring actor (Robert Pattinson) upon her arrival in Hollywood before securing a job as Havana’s personal assistant through her connection with Carrie Fisher and most likely having a tie to the Weiss clan that has something to do with those gloves she is always wearing (or more specifically, what they’re covering).
There is hardly a character to like in this cesspool of self-involved and beyond crude individuals that make up what they seem to think is a society of superiority. It is at once fascinating and at the same time a horrible disaster as it’s clear the same patterns of abuse, degradation and rejection have been cycling for years upon years. I realize much of that is the intent, but we already knew Hollywood was full of these yuppies, so what do you have to bring to the table that we haven’t seen before, Mr. Cronenberg? Herein lies my main complaint with the film as it’s not simply because I don’t like any of the characters that I don’t like the film. Benjie is a repulsive bigot who was given too much power and too much knowledge before his innocence had a chance to create the possible wonderment this world can hold and is all the more interesting for it, but his character arc is nothing that came as unexpected. Instead, Benjie plays to the same beats we’ve seen in any issue of US Magazine covering the life and times of Justin Bieber. The reality of what we’re witnessing right now whether it be through tabloids or any one of the ludicrous love/game shows on VH1 is that it is in itself ridiculous and so if one is going to comment on it, if one is going to attempt to mock or derive it in a shocking and effective way you really have to be willing to flip the switch. While “Maps to the Stars” is plenty vulgar, plenty in-your-face and beyond insensitive it means nothing, it hits no nerves and because of that it really has no purpose.
While the film was written by Bruce Wagner (“A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors”) meaning Cronenberg can’t take the full brunt of my frustrations it almost feels as if the two were going for something completely different. Mix in the performances from the obviously talented cast and we have what is collectively a mash-up of different goals for how they wanted to comment on the state of the people in Hollywood and how the state of the industry makes them that way. Further, the central conceit of the plot, the big mystery has nothing to do with the big idea of satirizing Hollywood anyway so it is curious as to what the real intention of each of the involved parties was. Sure, Julianne Moore is fine and she shows range and bravery (by farting on a toilet, no less) and this is right up Wasikowska’s alley so you know to expect something of an oddity out of her Agatha, but nothing else of note takes place here unless you want to consider Pattinson being Cronenberg’s new go-to actor as something interesting. I didn’t particularly care for what the two of them did in “Cosmopolis” and my indifference towards “Maps to the Stars” gives me little reason to look forward to what they may do next. In the end, I recognize where some might find this film interesting and even sharply and darkly humorous and we each arrive at our opinions based on what we find attractive rather than any sense of proof, but regardless I found nothing about this outing attractive.