Strong sex, strong language, strong violence… Strong pretty much everything permeates Maps to the Stars, David Cronenberg’s brilliantly nasty peek beneath the Hollywood veneer. Non-Cronenberg audiences, consider yourself duly warned.
Still here? In which case, you are probably either a Cronenberg fan, or at least cinematically curious. The Hollywood-as-hell theme has been explored in many memorable movies, from stone cold classics like The Player and Sunset Boulevard (to which this owes a huge debt) to lesser known pictures such as Swimming with Sharks or cult favourites like The Day of the Locust. However Cronenberg has put his own spin on this subgenre, delivering his best film since Eastern Promises.
Two separate plot threads are initially set-up – self-obsessed, has-been actress Havana (Julianne Moore) looking for a comeback role playing, in effect, her own mother, and spoilt child star Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird) emerging from drug rehab – before they are unified by two factors. First Benjie’s father, therapist Stafford (John Cusack), who has Havana as a client. Second Stafford’s estranged daughter Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) who is recommended by Carrie Fisher (playing herself) as a “chore whore” PA to Havana. Agatha is a burns victim whose dark past is eventually revealed, whilst co-incidentally Havana’s actress mother died in a fire.
Havana is regularly tormented by manifestations of her dead (and much younger) mother, but that is merely the beginning of a downward spiral of hallucination, madness, incest, murder, more murder and more incest. In fact, Cronenberg’s tremendous achievement here is that the most sympathetic character in the entire plot is a schizophrenic pyromaniac killer. That the Hollywood types around this character are so much more abhorrent is, alas, all too believable. This is clearly a cautionary morality tale of sorts, although the weapons grade cruelty on display is also savagely funny if you can stomach Bruce Wagner’s sulphuric acid screenplay. Performances are uniformly excellent, with Julianne Moore a particular stand out. In addition to the afore-mentioned supporting cast, there are good bit parts for Olivia Williams and Robert Pattinson.
All that said, I must re-emphasise that there are many bitter bills to swallow in Maps to the Stars. It is absolutely not for everyone, but it is a very good film for the not-easily-offended crowd. Come armed with a very dark sense of humour.