Stop me if you’ve heard this one before… Hollywood is an incestuous town and those that dwell there are morally bankrupt. This is the concept that is drilled into the ground throughout David Cronenberg‘s lifeless satire, Maps to the Stars. Written by Bruce Wagner (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors), Cronenberg defended the film at the Cannes Film Festival saying, “You could set this in Silicon Valley or on Wall Street — anyplace people are desperate and fearful. You could set it anywhere and have the same ring ofâ€¯truth.” Perhaps so, but it’s not set in Silicon Valley or Wall Street (neither of which would be new concepts either), it’s set in Hollywood and it’s a tired story from start to finish and it was all I could do to keep from leaving the theater.
Julianne Moore plays Havana, an aging actress on the brink of a breakdown, determined to get a part in a remake of a film her mother starred in several year’s ago. Haunted by images of her deceased mother (Sarah Gadon), telling her she’s no good, Havana’s determination turns to paranoia as she seeks the help of the unconventional therapist Stafford Weiss (John Cusack).
The Weiss family is the other half of this equation with 13-year-old child actor Benjie (Evan Bird) recently getting out of rehab while his mother (Olivia Williams) negotiates his new contract. Meanwhile, the family’s estranged daughter, Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), has been released from psychiatric care in Florida and found her way back home, befriended a limo driver (Robert Pattinson), gotten a job as Havana’s new assistant and caused a stir in the Weiss family due to her unexpected return home.
The point of this story is all-too-obvious with nothing new or interesting being said about the modern state of what it means to be a celebrity. An aging actress afraid of being forgotten and declared irrelevant, a child actor struggling with drug addiction and an over-bearing mother, a Hollywood shrink more concerned with his image than his family, a limo driver that wants to be an actor and screenwriter and a young daughter whose obsession serves as a metaphor for all of Hollywood, looking to knowingly repeat the mistakes her parents made. None of it is fresh or remotely interesting, but instead a tiresome bore.
Julianne Moore was praised out of the Cannes Film Festival for a performance many consider brave, a description most likely due to a scene where she has a conversation with Wasikowska while farting on the toilet. Okay, that’s definitely not conventional and it’s a solid performance, open and laid to bare, but hardly anything revelatory. The rest of the actors are largely sleepwalking through their roles, which isn’t new for a Cronenberg movie as that is sometimes part of his narrative aesthetic seen as recently as his last film, Cosmopolis, but this film falls well short of Cosmopolis.
The most interesting character is probably Bird as the acid-tongued, troubled young actor, but his character eventually devolves into a bag of cliches as the pieces of his family puzzle come together and the world around him begins to crumble.
I don’t really know what more there is to say. I feel as if I made more than my fair share of excuses for Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, which I found intriguing for a myriad of reasons, but with Maps to the Stars I was primarily bored. There could have been something here, but it’s too dull and plastic. The goal was clearly to approach it all with a straight face, no winks to the crowd no affirmation that this is a satire, but in creating a plastic world and plastic characters and then calling it the real world without any characters of consequence to compare things to, it still comes across as fake. It’s one thing to present a story of soul-less characters, but it’s quite another to use them in a movie that’s equally lacking.