There’s a reason why Maps To The Stars languished unmade for 20 years, before being picked up by professional controversialist David Cronenberg: it’s not just structurally a mess, with a psychological-thriller jigsaw-puzzle plot whose pieces never quite properly fit together, it’s also a massive you’ll-never-eat-lunch-in-this-town-again f*** you to Hollywood. That it ends up being absolutely gripping, if not exactly enjoyable, is testament to Cronenberg’s steely command of mood and to his remarkable cast.
Julianne Moore plays a fading Hollywood star, literally haunted by her abusive childhood as she schemes to play the part of her late mother in a new film. She cries her way through therapy, squelches her way through a conversation on the toilet, smiles her way through insincere Hollywood conversations, and is gradually revealed more and more as a duplicitous, manipulative, spoilt, self-centred, narcissistic, charming bitch. It’s an Oscar-worthy turn.
Mia Wasikowska is excellent, as ever, as the enigmatic and occasionally sinister burn victim who returns to LA for reasons I won’t spoil, and so is 13-year-old Evan Bird as a child star with a substance-abuse problem who comes on like a hilariously vile amalgam of Macaulay Culkin and Justin Bieber. Robert Pattinson, who seems to be developing a relationship with Cronenberg like Leo DiCaprio has with Scorsese (the star gets to act, the director gets funding), plays a rather blank chauffeur – which was screenwriter Bruce Wagner’s first job when he arrived in Hollywood.
The different strands all connect eventually, after a fashion. But there are too many coincidences that aren’t logically tied up, too many different characters who see dead people, and too many events and revelations that seem there for sensationalist rather than character-driven reasons. It’s like a soap opera from hell: deliberately (at least so I hope) melodramatic and unrealistic, even if filmed in a downbeat way, and thus ultimately unengaging.
Even so, it’s something of a marvel. Bruce Wagner insists in interview that it is not a satire on Hollywood. In which case, his characters must be true to Hollywood life as an insider has seen it. God help us.
For my review of the David Cronenberg exhibition at Toronto’s TIFF Centre, including a look at Cronenberg’s brain, click here.