Hollywood is full of all sorts of people. You either got rich and famous celebrities, normal people trying to live their lives, or normal people trying to make it big so that they can become rich and famous like the people they look up to so much. Of these many people, we focus on a few who are either trying to keep themselves relevant, or at least trying even harder to become relevant in any way at all possible. We have Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) a mysterious girl who shows up one day looking for a job and finds one as the secretary of aging actress Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), who seems to be all sorts of screwed up from the abuse she suffered from her mother as a child. There’s also the story of Havan’s limo driver (Robert Patinson) who is also an up-and-coming actor, just desperately waiting for his big break, although he might seem more interested in starting a relationship with Agatha. Then, there’s TV psychologist Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), who, along with his wife (Olivia Williams) are raising their child-star son, Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird), who is pretty mean to everybody around him, yet also, doesn’t quite know whether or not he wants to keep going with this famous life he’s been living. It’s all so very messed-up and sad, but don’t forget to drink the champagne and party like it’s Studio 54!
David Cronenberg seems to be the kind of director that just doesn’t cut for me, although it seems that, for everybody else in the world, he does just that. It’s not that his movies are bad, it’s just that they seem to be slow and meandering after awhile, that once he begins to throw in these abruptly gruesome scenes of violence, it comes almost out of nowhere; almost in a way that seems like even he’s dozing off a bit and needs to blow-up somebody’s head to excite even his own-self.
But here, with Maps to the Stars, Cronenberg seems to really nail down what he wants to do – not just with the story, but with his pace. Rather than being a slow-as-molasses piece that doesn’t go anywhere interesting, Cronenberg seems to really move quickly between scenes. He doesn’t focus on one subplot more than the other, but much rather, continue to shed some small light on them and the characters that inhabit them, and move on. This not only worked for my eyes and brain, but also as a satire, because what Cronenberg seems to getting at here is really that Hollywood’s full of privileged fakes and phonies, who not only believe that everything they ever want should be handed to them on a silver platter, but that they shouldn’t have to actually do a hard day’s work for it either.
By reading any Bret Easton Ellis novel or simply, just by typing in “Hollywood satire” on Netflix and watching whatever results come your way, you’ll know that Hollywood is an easy target to pick on. Though there are quite a few people who seem to be just normal, everyday human beings like you or I who just so happen to have the talent of emoting well for the cameras, the vast majority of Hollywood is filled with overly rich, famous, and snobby bastards. So it only makes sense that these people, and Hollywood in whole, would be the first ones to make fun of and poke at, even if you do do it in a dark way.
With Cronenberg’s brand of humor here, it’s less about making fun of the people in Hollywood, but more of the ideals that Hollywood spreads around. For example, a person’s need to feel culturally relevant and important is brought up many times here, which is funny, but it gets increasingly darker once you realize the lows some of these people will stoop to, only so that they can stay famous, if only for about 15 minutes or so. It’s funny how Cronenberg expresses this ideal in his movie, and it’s only made better by the fact that there’s hardly a likable character to be found in this.
Which is, yes, sometimes a little troubling to watch, but for the most part, it’s entertaining and fun, something I feel like Cronenberg’s forgot about in his past few movies. Here, he seems to be reveling in digging into these celebrities’ lives and figuring out what makes them tick, think the way they do, and have the need to be famous. Sure, sometimes these characters are a bit cartoonish, but that doesn’t bother Cronenberg or take him away from giving more depth to them and their stories; in fact, it’s probably best that we don’t find anything to relate to with these characters, because that in and of itself would be pretty horrifying.
If there was a few problems I had with this movie, it was whenever Cronenberg decided that he absolutely needed to throw in the “ghost” angle of this story. Not only did it feel unneeded, but it got real old, real quick. Seeing somebody getting spooked out by a ghost-like figure, especially when you know it’s just that, a ghost, is not at all scary. It’s just boring, monotonous, and cheap, especially considering how much good stuff Cronenberg had going for his movie as was. To add anything else would just be too much, or too tiresome to us, the audience. It’s best if we just take a closer look at these characters in a way to make ourselves feel a bit happier about the lives we live.
Now, with that being said, the characters in this movie aren’t very deep or thought-provoking, but it works because that’s sort of the point. These people in Hollywood are vain, egotistical a-holes that don’t give two shits about regular folk like you or I – they just want to get the big bucks, to have the lights constantly flashing in their faces, and to have sex with the hottest people they can find. Anything else is either of no interest to them, or simply put, just nothing they want to pursue in life.
And most of the reason why these characters work as well as they do, even though they aren’t fully supposed to, is because the cast is so capable of just going that extra mile and doing some neat, interesting things with them that, even with the slightest bit of detail, helps flesh them out a bit more.
Julianne Moore is probably the highlight of this movie because she’s doing some interesting, neat stuff here that we haven’t seen her do many times before. It’s pretty much known common knowledge now that if you put Julianne Moore in your movie, she’s going to do a fine job and give it her all. I have nothing wrong with that, or even her performances, but there is a part of me that feels as if her performances range from being “very dramatic” to “light dramatic”. She’s not unengaging by any means, but to put it nice, she’s a bit boring with some her choices, even if she finds ways to make them the slightest bit interesting.
Here though, we finally get to see Moore play around with this Lindsay Lohan-like character, Havana Segrand, who may be a total stuck-up bitch, but is also an actress that’s trying her damn near hardest to stay alive and well in this terrible place called Hollywood. It doesn’t make her wholly sympathetic, but it at least does a little something for her, so that when we see the gratuitous, high-living life she’s living, it makes us wish she’d just get her act together and do the right thing, even if we already know that’s not quite possible. It’s also fun to see Moore tackle a character that’s pretty stupid and doesn’t always know what she’s going to say next, and it makes me wish we’d see more of that from her.
Once again, not saying Moore’s a bad actress, but just not a totally versatile one. But I hope that begins to change more and more, even as she gets older and older (though honestly, you’d be hard-pressed to even tell how old she is by the way she looks).
Another one here in this cast that’s doing a little something different from what we’ve seen him do in quite some time is John Cusack as this weird TV psychiatrist that gets by solely on giving people fake advice from his fake degree. Cusack’s an odd choice for this kind of role, but he does well enough with it, that I didn’t really care his character didn’t get much development. In fact, I’d say it’s his wife, played by Olivia Williams, who gets the most development and actually ends up being one of the more sympathetic characters of this piece by showing her as a woman who cares for her son’s own well-being, yet, still can’t seem to get away from the fact that she wants money. And a whole lot of it, too.
And speaking of that son, the real stand-out here is him, played by Evan Bird. Though I don’t know Bird’s actual age, I’m still impressed by how good he was in this movie. Though there’s a few awkward line-deliveries here and there, overall, Bird gets by on making this Benjie character a total and complete dick, yet, still shows us that he’s a little kid who wants to live a normal life. The kid’s still a little prick to just about everyone around him, and they are quite easily the best scenes in the whole movie, but there’s that feeling that he still has the chance to live his life the way he wants to that makes his character a tad bit more sympathetic. Even though it’s so obvious who he’s being written as.
Then again though, that’s Hollywood, people.
Consensus: Like with most of Cronenberg’s flicks, Maps to the Stars is a very dark tale about some unlikable individuals, but with a slight twist in that’s entertaining to watch and actually funny.
7 / 10 = Rental!!