The bizarre pairing of David Cronenberg and Robert Pattinson are back with Hollywood-targeted dram Maps to the Stars. Declaring anything Cronenberg does anymore as bizarre might seem a bit redundant, but there is something about him getting his hands on the floppy-haired ex-Twilight lothario and making him do weird things.
It is in essence at least odd, and having forced him into a limo while the world breaks down in Cosmopolis he’s now turning his attention to celebrity, actors and Hollywood. It’s a bit like the head of the AV club taking the star of the high school sports team and forcing them to read poetry about how vacuous and stupid sports are. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your opinions on the actor himself) he is effectively side-lined to a mere supporting character in a celluloid play full of weirdos and monsters and not a lot in-between.
Maps to the Stars then follows a number of Hollywood archetypes like the fading actress (Julianne Moore) desperate for another role, a Hollywood therapist of sorts who reels off garbage phrases and ˜deep’ thoughts in exchange for flipping great wads of cash (John Cusack). There’s a Bieber-a-like 13-year-old called Benjie who might be the worst of the monsters (Evan Bird). Finally there’s Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), a scarred, celebrity-loving nobody who steps off a bus and immediately becomes Havana’s personal assistant and aspiring script-writer Jerome Fontana (Pattinson again in a limo, although this time driving) love interest. She has a shady past, like all people in these sort of satires must, and she isn’t the only one. Everyone here is hiding something horrible and as the plot progresses they all start to intertwine into an amorphous blob of misery and depressing realisation.
There comes a point when you think to yourself ˜who exactly am I rooting for here?’ and you quickly answer your own question with ˜oh, no one, that’s the point isn’t it?’ Based on a script by Hollywood insider Bruce Wagner this is a warts-and-all portrayal of the sort of self-obsessed Hollywood fame game that you assume can’t possibly be true, but as it unfolds it becomes apparent that it probably is.
It’s still a Cronenberg film, so obviously it’s pretty mad, but unlike other obvious fictional creations like The Fly or Cosmopolis there is an air of pseudo-reality on display that is as disturbing as it is fascinating. There is no hero of this story, just a bunch of nasty, horrible little people playing a game they can’t win to continue a lifestyle that makes them miserable.
The acting is uniformly brilliant, with only Cusack struggling and that might be because his inspirational speaker is a little bit too archetypal to be in any way realistic. Moore steals the show as Havana, a monster so incredibly nasty that it wouldn’t surprise you if she revealed horns, a tail and a pitchfork from underneath her ˜on trend’ Rodeo Drive fashion.
Cronenberg’s often aloof direction that distances his audience from the subject matter is perfectly used with this sort of material. He keeps you at an arms-length and shows you these horrible people from behind the safety of his lens. It’s like watching a documentary about animals that eat their own to survive and will have you saying, ˜oh isn’t that interesting, I’m happy I’m not like them, or near them, or in any way connected to them.’
A more personal director would probably have rammed you so close to the action that you’d be weeping at the over-exposure and contemplating suicide by the end, but Cronenberg is a master auteur and knows exactly how much weird to feed you without forcing you to choke to death on the nonsensical.