Film Review: Map to the stars

Small-town girl Agatha (Wasikowska) arrives in Hollywood on a Greyhound bus after befriending Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher on Twitter. On the way over to Fisher’s house she meets a handsome limo driver/aspiring actor (Pattison – who has improved with every step he has taken away from the lamentable Twilight franchise). 

Covered in burns from a mysterious incident in her childhood, Agatha endears herself to famed actress Havana Segrand (Moore), a gloriously toxic update of Sunset Boulevard’s Norma Desmond, who resembles a middle-aged Lindsay Lohan. Havana is haunted by her dead mother, a celebrated actress who apparently abused Havana as a child.

Meanwhile, the Weiss family – consisting of Havana’s therapist Stafford (Cusack), monstrous child star Benjie (a Bieber-esque Bird) and Christina (Williams), who mainly manages her son’s career – try to rebuild their lives following a past trauma that threatens to resurface and swallow all these characters …  

Cesspit that is Hollywood
Maps to the stars is a treatise on the vacuity of Hollywood. It sets about exposing all the ugly mechanisms that drive it and, if you love films, the less you know about such things, the better. But here, there’s no way of avoiding it: the cesspit of insincerity, ego, desperation and obscene amounts of money, where real horror lurks. 

It is an entirely different kind of horror for David Cronenberg, the great Canadian master of psycho-sexual body-horror, but for screenwriter/novelist Bruce Wagner, this is familiar ground. It is unmistakably Wagner’s film; his icy surgical wit is all over the writing. For those who are unaware of his work, you may recall an Oliver Stone-produced miniseries from the mid-1990s called Wild Palms – which Wagner adapted from his 1990 comic strip that ran in the magazine Details.

Wild Palms, the remake
There are many parallels between this film and that early surreal series – from the characters and dialogue to the setting. Wild Palms, coming hot on the heels of Twin Peaks (without whose success Wild Palms, and many other offbeat shows like it, might not have seen the light of day), was set in a near-future LA and satirised the uneasy alliance between an elitist dominion encompassing the LA arts scene, Californian politics, Hollywood media and religious cults (namely Scientology). 

Its central conceit was a new form of home entertainment with holographic actors broadcast directly into living rooms. Such elements were heavily influenced by Cronenberg’s Videodrome, so Wagner’s collaboration with the Canadian director is a happy marriage – in fact, marriage, cross pollination and in-breeding are the central themes of Maps To The Stars.

Nobody draws blood better!
Set in the present day with its sights set exclusively on the Hollywood machine, the film is less ambitious in scope than Wagner’s miniseries, but it cuts just as deeply into its subject. With several instances of inbreeding or incest, the film might be seen as an obituary for Hollywood itself. Havana, for example, is lobbying to star in a remake of a classic film – the same role her mother originally performed. 

In essence, Wagner posits that the health of the industry’s bloodline – with its nepotism, remakes, reboots and re-imaginings – is on the verge of collapse. New blood is urgently required to storm the gates – and who of the old guard is better qualified to lead this charge than Cronenberg, a filmmaker who rarely repeats himself and refuses to stagnate.

Maps To The Stars

Dir: David Cronenberg; Canadian drama/satire, 2014, 111 mins; Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, Robert Pattinson, Evan Bird, Olivia Williams 

Premiered March 26
Playing at Vester Vov Vov


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