“Maps to the Stars” – a film review by Gary Chew
Humanity has been usurped from them by their egos, drugs and wealth-induced delusion. This is the substance of the principle characters in David Cronenberg’s latest film, Maps to the Stars. And in the common vernacular, all are certainly characters: Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore); Agatha Weiss (Mia Wiakowska); and Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), the father of Agatha and Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird). There’s also Christina Weiss (Olivia Williams), married to Stafford and mother of Agatha and Benjie. Jerome Fontana (Robert Pattinson), a stretch limo driver, struggling actor and screenwriter who tools the upper crust neighborhoods of greater Los Angeles, is much less a “real” character, but he’s working on it.
Havana has done the most work on being a real character. Ms. Segrand isn’t quite as far into being a character as Norma Desmond was. But there’s no Cecil B. DeMille around anymore for Havana to call for her close up in this script by Bruce Wagner (Nightmare On Elm Street:Dream Warrior and Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills).
Havana is a famous movie star and daughter of a legendary film personality (now deceased) called Clarice Taggart. Benjie is a young multi-millionaire movie sensation and only thirteen. He talks like he’s thirty-five. His sister Agatha has just arrived in Los Angeles from Florida to look up her old family.
The California branch of the Weiss’s has been trying to forget Agatha for what she did before they put her in a mental hospital. Now, seemingly sweet and malleable, Agatha is of age and out on her own recognizance. She wears unusual garments to cover the scarring she suffered from burns that triggered the dissolution of the Weiss family. Placing Maps more closely to the wavelength of Cronenberg’s Crash, incestuous wedlock also plays a part. Besides DeMille, where’s Tennessee Williams now that we’re in need of him?
The discomfort that Cronenberg instills in Maps to the Stars is almost tantamount to that which he left me with after seeing his outrageous NC-17 piece of 1996 called Crash, starring James Spader, Holly Hunter and Deborah Kara Unger. But wait. Maps is rated R. But it’s a “tough” R.
Someone is beaten to death in this film; a child is nearly strangled to death. An adult burns to death at the edge of a swimming pool. One of the lead characters is shown sitting on a commode suffering from constipation and flatulence while conversing with another leading player. Brief full frontal male nudity makes it into the film too, along with a two-female/one-male nude threesome that’s not visually specific.
Recent Oscar winner Moore, one of my favorite film actors, has taken on many risky parts in her excellent career. Her turn as Havana is only slightly less brazen than her earlier appearance in Boogie Nights with Burt Reynolds and a then just-arrived Mark Wahlberg.
Like David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, Maps to the Stars — now showing in U-S theaters in some markets — occurs in the LA Basin, and is another stinging indictment of what many might imagine and probably hope Hollywood is.
Another disconcerting thing for me watching this on-demand movie streaming at my house was that I found Julianne Moore, although a woman now at 55 years of age, kept reminding me of a younger movie star with much the same skin tones and hair color. I surfed my brain during a few frames trying to bring up the name of the younger woman who Moore almost seemed to be in the movie, but grown older. Finally, the name and personality came to me: Lindsay Lohan. I remember Lindsay doing a double role when she starred with Dennis Quaid and Natasha Richardson in The Parent Trap. I took my six-year-old daughter to see it. We enjoyed it. Lindsay was eleven then.