Maps to the Stars

Posted by Joel Copling on March 4, 2015

"Maps to the Stars" operates on a wavelength of satire that makes it almost entirely alien to the world outside of itself. Of course, that's part and parcel of the satirical comedy, to operate on that wavelength, but this one is particularly outlandish. Its characters, each of them as unlikable as the next, are sharply designed exaggerations of real Hollywood types: the druggy, washed-up actress with a famous, now-dead mother, the current child star who is actually an enormous jerk, the promising writer who currently fills a thankless job as a means of paying the bills. Screenwriter Bruce Wagner has a canny ability of upending each of these types by the end. The confection is an oddly charming one, even as taboos, such as incest, child murder, and prepubescent drug abuse, make their appearance.

The washed-up actress is Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), who is vying for the role of a lifetime: starring in the remake of a film that nabbed her now-deceased mother an Oscar nomination. She's bubbleheaded in the classical sense--aging but in denial of the progression and prone to judging her own and others' worth by celebrity connections. It is through this methodology that she meets Agatha Weiss (Mia Wasikowska), a vivacious girl whose mysterious scarring (result of a fire whose origins are never quite clarified to any degree we can trust) runs parallel to Havana's own family history and secrets. Havana is haunted by the vision of her mother at the prime of her life (played by Sarah Gadon) and in the role of her lifetime (the one, ironically, Havana vies to fill), long before another fire claimed her life.

The characters in "Maps to the Stars" are individuals haunted by the past, and this is a ghost story of sorts--sometimes literally. Agatha's estranged younger brother Benjie (Evan Bird) is the child star who feigns philanthropy when a young girl, eventual victim of non-Hogdkin lymphoma (which he is led to believe, in the film's cruelest joke of a dozen cruel jokes, is actually AIDS), enters his life and refuses, even in death, to leave it. The joke of Benjie's character is that he's a self-obsessed Justin Bieber-type: His mother (Olivia Williams) is also his agent/manager from whom he demands things with much verbose vulgarity, and his father (John Cusack) is a self-help guru and Havana's therapist/yoga instructor.

Agatha's return to these people's fractured lives leads to a vicious third act that collapses them even more (An incident between Agatha and Benjie that, in all likelihood, was the basis of an incestuous relationship is also quietly kept in the dark until the final shot, by which time no act will repair these damaged souls). It is here where the satirical aims of the film (which stretch to that aspiring actor, a limo driver played by Robert Pattinson who feels entirely superfluous to the whole thing other than to be an unnecessary bump in Agatha's road) fall away to support its thriller instincts. Not all the characters make it out alive (par for the course in a movie directed by David Cronenberg, that purveyor of body horror, an element that also comes into play here), and "Maps to the Stars," when it stops being a sharp satire of Hollywood mores, is an acid-tongued thriller of the shock-and-awe variety.

Film Information

Julianne Moore (Havana Segrand), Mia Wasikowska (Agatha Weiss), John Cusack (Dr. Stafford Weiss), Evan Bird (Benjie Weiss), Olivia Williams (Christina Weiss), Robert Pattinson (Jerome Fontana), Sarah Gadon (Clarice Taggart).

Directed by David Cronenberg and written by Bruce Wagner.

Rated R (disturbing violence/sexual content, graphic nudity, language, drug material).

111 minutes.

Released in select cities on February 27, 2015.