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Maps to the Stars (2015) Review

Updated on March 7, 2015

In less than a year, I’ll be living in L.A. and working in show business. In some ways I’m excited, in some ways I dread it. I’m excited because it’s a nucleus of my industry, my lifelong passion. I dread it because I’ve been told over and over that I’m going to have to be careful, that it’s a land of illusion, of celebrity cult, of youth worship, of vapid, empty beauty.

One of the longest-running auteurs in the biz has just weighed in. Cronenberg’s latest film, Maps to the Stars, strikes at the heart of what this Hollywood culture thrives on: fucked-up people. That is, fucked-up people doing fucked-up things to other fucked-up people. In fact, there is not one character in this film you could classify as un-fucked.

Critics have been calling this “clinical” and “cynical,” “a punch to the gut” and so on, and they’re not wrong. There is a lot of insight here into the way things work, from casting to deal-brokering with studios, child stars to has-beens to also-rans, on-set and off-set overdramatics, and more, all delivered in heightened deadpan. It’s hilarious. And sometimes that humor is terrifying because you know you’ve heard that inhuman brand of logic get by with just the right doses of narcissism and self-delusion. It’s heightened, sure, but it’s also familiar.

The actors are what make it believable. Julianne Moore plays an insecure, image-obsessed actress whose interactions with others betray a shocking disconnect from reality. John Cusack gives the darkest, most terrifying performance I’ve ever seen him in as a smiling self-help guru. Newcomer Evan Bird made my head spin as he played his thirteen year-old recovering addict child star with a unique blend of intelligence, heart, immaturity, and wisdom beyond his years. Mia Wasikoska is a strangely Aquarian outcast, floating along in her own world at her own pace, pulling others into her changing tide with aloof innocence. The only dud is, once again, Robert Pattinson, who puts about as much effort into his character as a car does sitting in a garage.

But make no mistake. This is not just a film about Hollywood types and their faults. It may have started that way with Bruce Wagner’s screenplay, which is based on his personal experience as a chauffer to many of Hollywood’s gods, goddesses, and legends (the role Pattinson is ostensibly playing). But the final product is a deep analysis of family tragedies, of mothers who want to be their daughters, daughters who want to be their mothers, brothers and sisters with inexplicable bonds, the lust and rebellion between generations; in a word, it’s about mankind’s biggest historical taboo: incest.

And lest you think you’ve gotten the whole picture, imagine all the things that could mean as you watch the innocence of children disappear as quickly as their lives under the shifting seas of Howard Shore’s crying violins and electro-static anger. Fuck-ups fucking fuck-ups. But aren’t they all so beautiful and talented?

Cronenberg has me legitimately concerned. He has also made me aware that what seems to be missing from the whole picture is compassion for one another. And if even the Dalai Lama—whose recipe for freedom is to combine the wisdom of analytic insight with the skillful method of compassion—is seen as nothing here but a self-help guru’s talking points and a “cool guy” to hang with, where will people such as these get the message that has the power to guide them toward their desperately sought-after Liberty?

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