'Maps to the Stars' Review: David Cronenberg May Have Elevated the Shallow Hate-Watch to Actual Art
I don’t know if I’ve ever been so confused by a movie as by Maps to the Stars. Not by the plot, mind you (though that’s weird enough as well, because, well… Cronenberg), but by my own reactions to it. I have never been so bored while simultaneously enthralled. I’ve never wanted to punch every single character in their self-involved faces while also not wanting them to ever leave the screen. And I never thought I would so enjoy watching a movie whose script reads like a series of Entourage cast tweets strung together to form something just barely resembling actual dialogue and story. That doesn’t sound like a movie you’d want to watch, does it? And yet here we are, fully enjoying this experience.
The entire movie is the weaving together of characters who you would normally never think would cross paths. Julianne Moore plays Havana Segrand, who is what the worst tabloid version of Lindsay Lohan would (or will) be in 20 years, if cellularly merged with Amy Poehler’s Cool Mom from Mean Girls. Her refusal to accept her own age and dwindling career clashes (or possibly perfectly meshes) with her past which literally haunts her in the form of her dead mother, as she campaigns to play the lead in the biopic of her (very young) mother’s life and death. It’s not clear if the story is actually important to her, or if she’s just made to chase Oscar bait— probably because Havana herself is incapable of thinking that deeply about her own intentions behind anything.
Havana meets the young Agatha Weiss (Mia Wasikowska) through Carrie Fisher (playing Carrie Fisher), and takes her in as her personal assistant. Agatha comes off as small-town-naive, hurt, if not fully broken, wearing long old-Hollywood gloves to hide burns that cover much of her body. But her wide-eyed hopefulness gives way to weird secretiveness and All About Eve tendencies, before turning full scary Single White Female. Also in the mix is a Frankie Muniz doppelganger named Benjie (Evan Bird), who is tangentially related to all this as he is a total miniature garbage person living in David Cronenberg’s horrible Hollywood wasteland. Other, more disturbing secretive connections unfold throughout the movie, but he’s also the son of John Cusack’s Stafford Weiss, who serves as Havana’s I don’t know… Therapist? Doctor? Acting coach? What’s the word for someone who pins your arms behind your back while you weep and recite dialogue in your underwear? Well, that’s what he is. And finally there’s Robert Pattinson (as Jerome Fontana), bumming around— a writer/actor/limo driver who seems to be the most well-adjusted character in the mix, and is (of course, in this terrible world) therefore the least interesting of the bunch.
Ultimately, besides a few random scenes of extreme shock and awe, this movie is a simply a collection of weird and broken people who are fascinating, but possibly not fascinating enough to sustain an entire movie. Every single character is shallow and self-absorbed enough to make for a good hate-watch, and it’s rare enough that a hate-watch is produced on such a level to actually resemble true art, but does that make it worth your time? It’s really hard to say. This is a movie that will most likely get under your skin, and leave you thinking about it for a significant time afterwards. But much of that time may be spent wondering what this film actually is. Is it something substantial, or is it as hollow a shell as its characters? I honestly don’t know, but it is rare that a movie can stick with you like this, and that’s definitely something to praise, isn’t it?
Vivian Kane had to watch this movie twice in 24 hours because her brain rejected it the first time. And for that, she may never forgive her brain.