David Cronenberg has always been a divisive film-maker, his films alienating some as much as they engross others. Ever uncompromising with his ideas, Cronenberg has transitioned from his early career body horror marvels to film that delve in to the psychological, from studies like ‘A Dangerous Method’ to the wacky thriller that was the hugely polarising ‘Cosmopolis’, he’s an innovative and interesting film-maker who never makes boring films, no matter what you think of them, and that trend doesn’t stop here. This film is a look at the dark side of Hollywood, the side where shallowness, drug abuse and bitter rivalries reign supreme, and everyone is warped so much by it they verge on the edge of, or just are, psychotic.
The film is anchored by brilliant performances from an A-list ensemble cast, with Julianne Moore stealing the show as ostensible main character Havana Segrand, around whom the general story revolves. A washed-up actress plagued by a constant sense of failure for not being as successful as her legendary mother, Segrand is neurotic, obsessive and decidedly self-centred, being the foil for a lot of the startlingly funny lines in Bruce Wagner’s script and Moore’s believable but downright crazy portrayal of her steals the show, her acting skill shining through in all of Segrand’s maniacal screams and drug-fuelled whimpering. Hopefully, thought it may be too much to ask, an Academy Award nomination isn’t too far away.
Her performance is ably supported by the likes of Mia Wasikowska, whose mysterious character Agatha is the catalyst for the chain of events that drive the narrative of the film, and Robert Pattinson, whose character seems like the only nice guy in the whole place, but obviously looks can be deceptive. He pulls off a very convincing American accent and despite not having much screen time puts in an understated performance that shows his true acting chops, having seemingly been taken under Cronenberg’s wing with this being his second appearance in his films (the aforementioned ‘Cosmopolis’ being the first) it seems that he has put the sparkly vampire days well and truly behind him. Other top performances come from the likes of John Cusack and Olivia Williams, with Evan Bird doing a remarkably good job as child-sensation turned drug addict Benjie Weiss in the kind of performance one would not expect from such a young actor.
‘Maps To The Stars’ is a film that revels in its characters’ nastiness, their basest urges and inner turmoil is addressed with absolutely no sense that the world of Hollywood is anything like as magical as its title suggests, Cronenberg telling us the story by joining us as a detached spectator, watching these characters screw themselves and each other up as they try to get a hold of their own problems and invariably only manage to make them worse. The film is a wonderful antithesis to the usual portrayal of Tinseltown as a place of creativity and opportunity, and while its bitter sensibility may not tell the whole story, it’s definitely nice to see the dark side in a way that both disgusts and amuses, causing you to laugh as much as it does almost turn away from the screen. Sure, it may be the case that some of the narrative contrivances are hard to hold in tandem with the stark realism of the rest of the film, but that far-fetched stuff almost works as anti-magic, exacerbating the whole seedy, rancid tone to bursting point and resulting in what is a very interesting if sometimes off-putting film by one of Hollywood’s most interesting outsiders.
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