“Maps to the Stars”: Hollywood Is Death

Hollywood is incestuousness. Incestuousness is death. Hollywood is death.

The transitive property of congruence is hard at work in David Cronenberg’s newest film Maps to the Stars, which could best be described as a dizzying array of circular story lines and themes that, in and of themselves, are downright loopy.

If you’re not already a Cronenberg convert, do not pass Go and do not collect $200. If you are, buckle up for the director’s wildest ride since 2002’s Spider, his most allegorically satisfying adventure since 1988’s Dead Ringers—and his first satire. The message? Enter Hollywood at your own risk.

What would seem to be simple wordplay in the movie’s title is actually fodder for hours-long conversations among those who have seen Maps to the Stars. Actual star maps with intersecting streets are panned over in the opening credits, suggesting that the film will be a tart critique of Hollywood’s surface value. But, as indicated by the galactic stars featured in the closing credits, it’s actually an existential skewering of Tinseltown itself.

Caricatures are typically personae non grata in Serious Filmmaking. But in this instance, the main players are so arched—uncomfortably so, most of the time—that they transcend far beyond the normal implications of laziness and bad writing.

Mia Wasikowska and Julianne Moore in "Maps to the Stars"

Mia Wasikowska and Julianne Moore in “Maps to the Stars”

Meet Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), a star-obsessed pyromaniac who has just arrived in Hollywood from “Jupiter…Florida,” she tells limo driver Jerome (Robert Pattinson).

Meet Jerome, whose feeble attempts to break into Hollywood are some of the only heartwarming moments that Maps to the Stars has to offer. Fortunately, the relatively sympathetic character gets his comeuppance at the end of the film, in more ways than one.

Meet Havana (Julianne Moore), the excruciatingly vain, ungracefully aging actress whose career is going down the toilet (a point Cronenberg sledgehammers home with a long shot of her taking a shit in the bathroom).

Meet Benjie (Evan Bird), the reprehensible child star who unleashes his post-rehab aggression with profanity-laced tirades on his manager…and much worse.

Meet Dr. Stafford (John Cusack), a hack spiritual guru and TV psycho-babbler who is something of a New Age answer to Tom Cruise’s Frank T. J. Mackey in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia.

Meet Carrie Fisher, whose cameo playing herself is reason alone to seriously consider this Cronenberg’s first foray into comedy.

Robert Pattinson in "Maps to the Stars"

Robert Pattinson in “Maps to the Stars”

Add in ghosts of dead children, flesh metaphors (a Cronenberg staple), a ménage à trois featuring Moore, incest galore, jabs at the Dalai Lama and Scientology, and an exhausting amount of name-dropping, and it’s a mind-melding, mind-melting rocket ship that could only be piloted by the Canadian auteur.

Maps to the Stars isn’t so much heavy-handed as it is ham-fisted. But what would a Cronenberg film be were it not over the top? Well, we know, actually—in the form of 2005’s A History of Violence, 2007’s Eastern Promises, 2011’s A Dangerous Method, and 2012’s Cosmopolis. With those four films, it seemed as if Cronenberg might be headed into safer, more conventionally dramatic territory. But now he’s opened up a new can of cinematic whoop-ass—and the results are pretty far-out. FL

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