David Cronenberg, the venerable Canadian King of Venereal Horror himself, takes a satirical turn in MAPS TO THE STARS (2014), which skewers the lives of fictional members of the Hollywood elite. Although it is a dark comedy/satire, Cronenberg’s directorial history nevertheless shows through with some horror-infused moments.
The film’s screenplay is by Bruce Wagner, who also has the horror genre in his professional history (e.g., “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors” (1987), co-written with Wes Craven). This is not the first foray into Hollywood satire for Wagner, who wrote “Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills” (1989, dir. Paul Bartel), which is also an iconoclastic look at the pretensions and vices of the Hollywood elite.
Julianne Moore is Havana Segrand, a fading star and daughter of a “cult idol” mother, Clarice Taggart (Sarah Gadon), who was a star in the 1960s, before her untimely death in a house fire. Havana is haunted by her memories of Clarice, who she believes sexually abused her as a child. However, she is not the only one who is preoccupied with Clarice.
Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), who arrives in Hollywood via a bus from Florida, chants Clarice’s lines from her biggest movie (which seems a lot like “Suddenly, Last Summer” [1959, dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz]) as if they are a mantra. Agatha uses her online friendship with Carrie Fisher (who plays herself in the film) to get hired as Havana’s personal assistant (or “chore whore,” as the job is apparently called in Hollywood).
Unlike her limousine driver boyfriend, Jerome (Robert Pattinson) — who is also an “actor-writer” — breaking into Hollywood is not her main agenda. Her true target is a twisted reunion with her brother, Benjie (Evan Bird), a jaded teenage star who just got out of rehab. Their father, unconventional psychotherapist Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), and mother, Christina Weiss (Olivia Williams), are not thrilled when they find out that Agatha is back. It seems that, like Clarice, she’s had her own experience with fire.
Given the quality of its director, writer, and principal cast, the film not surprisingly has a strong start that expertly hides the true identities and relationships of the main characters. Somehow, however, it loses steam as the story plays out, ultimately producing a rather disappointing ending.
While the ending does fit the story logically and ties up a lot of loose karmic ends, it is kind of a letdown, given that it comes from the director of films like “The Dead Zone” (1983), “Videodrome” (1983), “Naked Lunch” (1991), and “A History of Violence” (2005). Thus, part of the reason for my disappointment is the potential inherent in this film project. Besides its director and writer, it has an excellent cast whose members clearly understand their characters well and deliver convincing performances.
Like “A History of Violence,” this film premiered at Cannes, where Moore won Best Actress for her performance in it. It’s easy to see why — it’s smart and edgy, with clever lines that are particularly well-delivered by Moore. The obsessive fantasy at the heart of the film — embodied by Clarice’s signature lines and then by her own ghost (or is it a hallucination?) — provides a sturdy base for the film’s portrayal of the reality of its characters and their milieu. It’s just that the ending seems too easy and tidy to me, although it is clearly a logical conclusion to the “bonfire of the vanities” of its characters. Take a look at it yourself, then start a discussion below with your own take on this film.