Overview: A mysterious burn victim’s arrival in Hollywood causes mayhem for several denizens. Universal Pictures; 2015; Rated R; 112 Minutes
Explain Game: Maps to the Stars is David Cronenberg’s follow-up to Cosmopolis, another “Disaffected Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” film, but it’s missing that film’s commitment to ambiguity. Cosmopolis forces its audience to be outsiders, refusing to give them any sort of entryway into its characters’ world, which makes for a frustrating but rich experience. Maps to the Stars retains its predecessor’s theme but not its bold method of conveying that theme. It starts out promisingly in this regard, dishing out small bits of its complex web of characters scene-by-scene. I actually had to pause it around 40 minutes in just to take stock of everyone’s relationship to each other. About fifteen minutes later, I felt like a fool for doing so. That first act is tantalizingly vague, even teasing supernatural elements, but there’s a steep drop into Exposition Land not long afterwards. Maps to the Stars is just too coherent. Extraordinary questions turn out to have ordinary answers, and the film seems to be far more interested in the latter than the former. It ends up being a rather banal expose of what a despicable place Hollywood is, so singularly obsessed with proving how insane and shocking it is that it becomes relatively normal and unsurprising.
Aliens: It’s a disappointing case of a film’s director overselling its screenplay. Cronenberg isn’t doing much here, admittedly, but he does enough to elevate some pretty trashy material. Early on, I noticed his use of ADR (dubbing over actors’ voices in post-production) gave certain dialogue scenes an unsettling sense of detachment. It’s the same kind of disconcerting feeling that Cosmopolis had throughout. This aesthetic extends to his visuals; he’s more likely to pull the camera away from its subjects during moments of high drama than to go in for close-ups. It keeps you alienated from the characters. In one of the first scenes, Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), who has just arrived in Hollywood, speaks to Jerome (Robert Pattinson), a chauffeur. “Where’d you come in from?” he asks. “Jupiter,” she replies, pausing before amending, “Florida.” Maps to the Stars has Cronenberg take the notion of celebrities as super-human gods to its logical — if unoriginal — extreme.
MVP: That may not sound like a hard sell, but Maps to the Stars has an ace up its sleeve: Julianne Moore. She plays self-destructing actress Havana Segrand as one of the entitled teenagers from The Bling Ring, with all the emotional volatility of your average high schooler. The disconnect between her age and her personality plays perfectly into Cronenberg’s aforementioned depiction of actors as beings who are alienated even from themselves. Is it a showy performance? Perhaps, but Moore is just so damn good at it that it’s impossible to dismiss her work here. Cronenberg makes Maps to the Stars a not-terrible movie, but she’s the reason to call it genuinely solid.
Wrap-Up: Maps to the Stars is disappointingly straightforward, but Moore is incredible and Cronenberg’s sure directorial hand keeps things decidedly discomfiting.