Do a Shot: for each plot twist.
Take a Drink: whenever a character does.
Take a Drink: every time Julianne Moore screams.
Do a Shot: for each reprehensible moment.
Take a Drink: for each darkly humorous moment.
By: Matt Conway (Three Beers) –
For better or worse, David Cronenberg has always been a director who has stuck to his guns and made each story he adapted to screen his own. From his great and twisted early work on horror films such as Videodrome and The Fly, Cronenberg showed himself to be a director with a real visual flair, but also a skilled storyteller who develops great characters. He has more recently expanded his work to different genres, which has resulted in solid flicks like A History of Violence and Eastern Promises.
Despite some great successes, Cronenberg does have the tendency to be very hit-or-miss, especially recently. Both his past two films, A Dangerous Method and Cosmopolitan, were failures in their own respects, with Method failing to meet the Oscar hype surrounding it and Cosmopolitan being a flat-out mess. His latest, Maps to the Stars, still features some of his more flawed tendencies, but is certainly a very worthwhile effort.
Maps to the Stars is essentially a look into a Hollywood family which is chasing celebrity while battling their individual demons.
As usual with every film he directs, Cronenberg has gathered quite an impressive cast. Leading the way is Julianne Moore, who is fresh off her Oscar win for Still Alice. Here, Moore continues to show her talents, disappearing into the vain character of Havana Segrand with ease. She is able to show audiences the stereotypical Hollywood-type actress, while also giving her character quite a bit of subtle depth.
Stealing the show, however surprisingly in this loaded cast, are both Mia Wasikowska and Evan Bird. Wasikowska has quietly turned in consistently solid work in Stoker and Jane Eyre, and continues that streak here; she is able to portray Agatha has a scared, yet understandable, character. Bird, on the other hand, has a very tough role as Benjie, who is essentially this universe’s Justin Bieber. In the wrong hands, this role could have brought the film down, but Bird is restrained when he needs to be while showing off the disturbed side of his character. John Cusack, Robert Pattinson, and Olivia Williams also do solid work in their respective roles
To no real surprise, Cronenberg brings his A-game when it comes to directing the film. Visually, Maps to the Stars looks quite impressive considering its small budget, with Cronenberg and cinematographer Peter Suschitzky doing a great job of capturing the Hollywood cityscape. Behind the camera, Cronenberg brings his usual consummate eye for visuals, which leads to the some of the film’s more impressive stylistic moments. Whether the film itself is good or bad, he is an absolute pro, always lending his unique eye to the picture.
Maps to the Stars has some wildly amusing moments. Quite a bit of this film is a dark comedy, satirizing the Hollywood lifestyle and the empty people that live it. Cronenberg understands the ridiculous nature of these people, and takes advantage of that. From John Cusacks’s character, Dr. Stafford’s pseudo-psychologist babble, to Moore screaming after failing to land a part, there are quite a few laughs to be had.
The script here, written by Bruce Wagner, has its moments of brilliance. Wagner, who has been working on this script for nearly a decade, succeeds a great deal in portraying these vain types in a complex way with sharp dialogue. It’s hard to care for these people, but with Cronenberg’s distant direction, you’re not supposed to. Instead, Maps to the Stars is a look into this crazy universe of people, which truly unravels in the final third with each insane twist and turn.
Even when the film gets out of control, though, Maps to the Stars does not show audiences anything they have not seen before. Wagner’s script and its age shows some during the film, with moments that are supposed to be shocking but are nothing that has not been featured on TMZ recently. While this doesn’t kill these moments entirely, it takes the suspense out of them.
Maps to the Stars, like a lot of Cronenberg’s more recent films, also has its dull parts. The film is paced well enough during its 102 minute running time, but does have some dryer parts where its not firing on all cylinders. A lot of these segments are some of the sequences that try to be titillating, but are just rather tedious to watch.
Maps to the Stars‘s biggest issue is its tone, which is overall very inconsistent. At times it tries to be darkly comedic, and at other times it’s trying to be a more serious portrayal of the Hollywood lifestyle. This comes off as intermittently incoherent, especially when it’s trying to hit a more somber tone. Whenever the film is more straightforward about its subject matter, Maps to the Stars does not quite have the insight to land any real impact during these moments.
While the film is slightly uneven and confused, Maps to the Stars is often times an entertaining portrait of the Hollywood lifestyle overall, boosted by great performances and a talented cast. It’s not vintage Cronenberg, but certainly worth a look nonetheless.