A nightmarish view of Hollywood in all its sordid incarnations: we follow Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore) an unstable out of work actress desperate to play the film role that made her dead mother famous- the dead mother who, her therapist has convinced her, abused her as a child. Elsewhere on the scene- and everyone’s tales are interconnected of course, this is Hollywood at its most incestuous- a cast of wannabe writers and actors working as limo drivers and PAs, brattish recovering addict child stars and pushy super-driven moms. We follow the characters through their family dramas, career slides and peaks, and dark, dark secrets, until all spirals into a dramatic finale.
Maps to the Stars is an unflinching and incredibly well observed look at the ugly underbelly of Hollywood, the narcissism, the backbiting, and the self-destruction. It’s a topic that’s been tackled before- the sadness beneath the glittering lights- but few directors have portrayed it so brilliantly and effectively and made it so darkly funny.
The dialogue is perfectly sharp and cutting; all conversations are littered with first name dropping-(‘you know Harvey’, ‘I was with Carrie’)- gossip about others’ failings and grasping for new career boosting contacts, an acerbic insight into the peculiarly vicious, career obsessed and self-conscious Hollywood mentality. A group of teen actors, on their celebrity peers: ’she’s twenty three, practically menopausal’.
Where Sunset Boulevard, the earlier piercing gaze at rise and decline in Hollywood was set across a backdrop of fading gaudy mansion splendour, here the settings are clinical apartments, clean white empty spaces, glossy minimalist restaurants, the perfect environments for emphasising the alienation and emotional emptiness acutely felt by the lead characters. Though everyone is interconnected and well versed in the intimate details of each other’s life through the unrelenting wheel of Hollywood gossip, meaningful emotional engagements are pretty much non-existent. Cronenberg is particularly biting when looking at the means by which Hollywood tries to attain some kind of deeper sense of wellbeing; the imported bits and pieces of Eastern philosophies: ‘I met the Dalai Llama’, Moore tells her new assistant, ‘A really cool guy’, and Cusack as Dr Stafford Weiss, an expensive experimental therapist, continually offering New Age find-yourself speak.
The acting is great- Julianne Moore hypnotic whether breaking down in therapy or wildly celebrating a death which opens up a part for her, she is both frail and demonically possessed by her career aims. The whole cast excels; but Mia Wasikowska is also particularly strong as the unstable older sister of a Hollywood teen star; the awkward outsider, jilted by her family and just out of a psychiatric hospital, drawn into a strange new world.
The film thrives on the elements of the surreal; the visions, hallucinations of the characters- a perfect illustration of the total surreal-ness of Hollywood; a bubble where fiction and reality blur. It’s a bubble that convinces people their actions are free from real life consequences or meaning, and this leads to the film’s peculiarly apt and fitting finale.
Strange, funny and dark, one of the best films of 2014 for its brutal, well-acted and brilliantly scripted dissection of the internal chaos of Hollywood.
Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, Robert Pattinson
Running Time: 112 minutes
Date of Release: May 21, 2014