The idea and perception of ‘Hollywood’, this idealistic, flawed beauty that makes and breaks dreams by the hour is filled with endless potential that most would say has barely been acknowledged as anything other than this fantastical land. Director David Cronenberg, famed for out of the box, insightful filmmaking, has dared to highlight the dirty, gritty side of this machine. While the intent is clear, the execution is muddy at best, filled with too many soap operatic plot developments that make a mess of a potentially stunning film.
We’re introduced to Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) a wide eyed youth from Florida keen to make it big in the city of dreams and vanity. Covered in burn marks and shrouded in mystery, Agatha befriends celebrities on social media, hoping for a chance to connect with one. Cue the self-obsessed, maniacal actress Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), who has way too many mummy issues and not enough pills to cope and hires Agatha as her “chore whore”. Helping Havana with her issues is guru to the stars Dr Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), who clearly is a masseuse pretending to be a therapist. He is married to the controlling ‘Mom-ager’ Christina Weiss (Olivia Williams) and together they have created the worst possible version of a preteen in child actor Benjie (Evan Bird). Together these characters’ lives are intertwined more than you think, but once the truth starts to reveal itself, harsh consequences are dealt to these emotionless, self-absorbed ‘people’ that make for a very confusing ending.
Without certainty this is the Julianne Moore show, and everyone else is just a prop. She is stunning here in her take on a character that is such a very basic, assumed cliché in Hollywood. Yes her character is, at the root of it, actually kind of an asshole, but Moore takes it all in stride and proves she can quite literally play any character with finesse and aptitude. Aussie beauty Mia Wasikowska also shines as the cuckoo for cocoa puffs Agatha and while you’re supposed to feel sympathy for her character, there is also an underlining sense that maybe she isn’t exactly what she seems. Wasikowska plays that duality almost effortlessly, and while she isn’t as brilliant as the more experienced Moore, Maps to the Stars is a performance that has proven that she will be a force to be reckoned with in years to come. Robert Pattinson also features as chauffeur/actor Jerome, and while his screen time isn’t long, he makes the most out of his role as the down-on-his-luck-actor-looking-for-a-break cliché we have come to know too well.
The film slowly chugs along, almost at a glacial pace. But then things take a turn and all of a sudden you’re on this crazy ride that you have no idea where the hell you are going. This is great, but only sometimes and when it’s done perfectly. Here, the plot developments were just TOO far out of the realm of possibility for me, and I just didn’t understand some characters (re: Agatha) decision making, which often led to some far out moments. One particular scene that struck a chord was Havana’s joy that another actress that had gotten a part Havana really wanted, lost a son to drowning and thus could no longer work, paving the way for Havana to take the role. I sincerely hope that there is no one out there that would take joy from benefiting based on a child’s death. But a microscopic part of me knows that’s just wishful thinking.
Maps To The Stars is a jaded, cynical and perhaps too honest commentary on La La Land, and while I welcomed such a premise with open arms, the overall result was a confused mess. Too much clutter that would have benefitted far better with a more simplistic approach, the film struggles to break from the plot and ends up in a jumbled heap of possibilities and the potential to be great.
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