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24 Feb 2015

Hollywood Hijinks: 'Maps to the Stars' Is a Twisted, Funny Bit of Satire About the Entertainment Biz

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Julianne Moore in Maps to the Stars. Julianne Moore in Maps to the Stars.

Director David Cronenberg (The Fly, Scanners) takes a blowtorch to Hollywood with Maps to the Stars, a scabrous, scary and darkly funny satire about movie stars, their agents and their crazy kids.

Not since David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. has Hollywood gotten such a severe—and entertaining—skewering. The two films have more than Hollywood satire in common; they also both stand as decent horror/mysteries.

Julianne Moore continues her roll of greatness as Havana Segrand, an aging actress with serious mommy issues. Havana is actually trying to land a role playing her own mother, a cult-film star who died in a fire, when she hires the mysterious, newly arrived Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) to be her assistant.

Elsewhere in Los Angeles, a spoiled child actor, Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird), is almost 90 days into sobriety, constantly sipping on sports drinks and plotting his next move. He’s visiting dying girls at the hospital (but getting the disease wrong) and still making youth-oriented films. Unfortunately, younger, cuter child actors are starting to get all the good lines.

Meanwhile, Benjie’s dad, Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack) is treating Havana with a combination of tough, new-age mental and physical therapy to get at the roots of her self-esteem issues. Benjie’s mom, Christina (Olivia Williams), frets over his roles and image concerns, and she harbors a lot of secrets.

As in Predestination, many of these characters are interlocked in strange, and even sick ways. To talk about it any more would be to give too much away.

Maps works in two ways: You can watch it as a straightforward narrative that makes complete sense, or you can watch it as if it were all a dream—in which case, it also makes perfect sense. It’s a great puzzle movie in which all of the pieces fit together nicely. Cronenberg and screenwriter Bruce Wagner deserve a lot of credit for putting together a story that works in parallel ways.

Contributing to the dreamscape quality is cinematography by Peter Suschitzky, who did the same with Cronenberg’s last film, Cosmopolis. That film had Robert Pattinson being driven around Manhattan in a stretch limo, while this film has Pattinson playing a limo-driver in L.A. It appears that Pattinson is the go-to actor of choice when Cronenberg needs somebody to spend the majority of a character’s time in a limo.

Moore, who won the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival for this role last year, approaches Havana as a spoiled brat. She gives her voice just the right amount of whining to make her annoying enough to hate, but still fun to watch. Havana is a Hollywood monster—a pompous, messed-up diva whose every action and emotion is self-directed. Her little song and dance after hearing about a tragic drowning sums up her character perfectly.

It’s great to see Cusack doing some fine work here rather than slumming in Hot Tub Time Machine 2, a piece of crap he managed to avoid. Cusack’s career is all over the place as of late, but this is a nice return to form.

Bird looks like a young Justin Timberlake and gives us a character that reminds of spoiled brat Justin Bieber.

Cronenberg and Wagner take some fun, nasty little shots at Hollywood practices like name-dropping, sleeping with somebody for a part and even trying to kill co-stars. They pull no punches—and they’ve probably brought a few Hollywood types to tears.

Maps to the Stars is available on demand and via online sources such as iTunes and Amazon.com starting on Friday, Feb. 27. It also opens on Friday, Feb. 27, at the Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0730).

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