VOD film review: Maps to the Stars
James R | On 11, Feb 2015
Director: David Cronenberg
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, Julianne Moore, Robert Pattinson
How do you spot an Oscar nominee? They look just like all the others. If the 2015 Academy line-up makes you think Hollywood is cliquey, Maps to the Stars – which has arrived on DVD and VOD in the middle of awards season – rams home the point with a queasy authenticity.
Mia Wasikowska plays Agatha, a young girl with aspirations of being a writer, who scuttles into town on the coach. She’s picked up by Jerome (Pattinson), a chauffeur with aspirations of being an actor. “I ordered a stretch limo,” she says. “There weren’t any left,” he replies. On the ride into LA, they swap stories, trading fledgling claims to fame from the outer rings of the starry universe.
“Scientology – I was thinking about converting,” he shoots. “Just as a career move.”
The script is full of such cutting remarks, which the cast deliver with a matter-of-fact off-handedness that makes them sting all the more. Leading the venomous charge are Julianne Moore as ageing actress Havana Segrand and John Cusack as Dr. Stafford Weiss, her therapist. He rubs her up and down as they re-enact trauma on the floor, him telling her that memories are stored in the thighs. She, meanwhile, is auditioning for a role in a remake of a film her mother, Clarisse, once starred in.
If the adults are screwed up, though, the kids have it worse. Benjie (Evan Bird) – Stafford’s son – is chased by a studio and his controlling mother (a brilliant Olivia Williams) to star in another sequel in his smash hit franchise. In between meetings, he gets wasted with other young celebrities – despite going through rehab – while spotting washed up older faces. “Who’s James Cassidy?” asks one. “The father of David Cassidy.” “Who’s David Cassidy?” “The brother of Sean Cassidy.”
It’s only a matter of time before he bumps into Agatha, whose back-story is like the ugly twin of his own upbringing. As passes cross and re-cross, everything twists and turns until it becomes one incestuous pool – one in which the grown-ups tread water, while the youngsters drown.
A sickening sense of the past repeating itself – or the future generation following in its seniors’ footsteps – soon becomes literal, as the spirit of Clarisse begins to appear, interrupting Havana’s massages and joining in her sex scenes. All the while, Agatha repeats lines from a poem, which become a trance-like motto that spreads through all of the characters’ mouths like they’re one collective consciousness.
“By the power of the word, I renew my life,” she intones. “On all the flesh that says yes… I write your name.”
The cast are uniformly fantastic, sending themselves up with a scathingly twisted blend of melodrama and comedy. Moore, in particular, is horrifically good at conveying her spiteful cow’s nervous breakdown. Between her and Bird’s descent into hallucinations, it’s like watching a car crash in slow-motion.
“Shit happens,” observes Benjie’s mum, nonchalantly. “It just happens a lot earlier than it used to.”
Part horror story part satire, Cronenberg’s creepy take-down of Hollywood treats the whole community like one big home haunted by an insidious idea; a sham circus powered by bloody awards and familial ties. What’s unnerving, though, isn’t the darkness – or the comedy – but how entirely believable and mundane it all feels.
“I know Carrie Fisher,” says Agatha to Jerome, casually. “I met her on Twitter.”