★★★ | Map To The Stars

When the Hollywood limo driver asks his mysterious disfigured young passenger where she has come from she answers ‘Jupiter’ meaning the small town in Florida. It could however easily been the planet though as the girl is obviously extremely odd, and this is a David Cronenberg movie after all.

Agatha is back in California after being incarcerated after trying to kill her kid brother in a house fire. Now a young adult she is out to find Benjie her brother an obnoxious 13-year-old successful movie star in the vein of Justin Bieber, who has just spent the summer in rehab trying to kick his habits. Their father is a celebrity self-help guru, who mixes massage with lashings of Freud, and their highly-strung mother is trying to keep herself and the family together by acting as Benjie’s manager, and at the same time praying that their well-kept secret about the mentally unstable Agatha never leaks out.

Meanwhile elsewhere in this tale about the narcissistic and greed of movie land, Havana a fading middle-aged star is desperate for a role in a remake of a film that originally starred her abusive mother. When she fires the latest in a long line of personal assistant, or ‘chore whores’ as she calls them, her good friend Carrie Fisher hooks her up with a weird new girl in town who she had met online. When Havana learns of Agatha’s burns she sees that as good omen having lost her own mother in a fire, and gives her the job. Eventually, Havana is offered the film role, albeit by default, and when she is back in the studio it gives Agatha access to hook up with her brother and prey on his insecurities to worm her way back into his life.

Throughout the film, all manner of ghosts appear with disquieting regularity adding to both Benje’s and Havana’s already troubled psyches and undermines their attempts at trying to keep a grasp on their sanity. It’s one of the perverse elements of this intriguing very odd drama that seems morbidly obsessed with the past.

It’s the first movie that Cronenberg, a Canadian, has made in the USA and it is beautifully shot in a very sunny and glamorous California which somehow makes the heart-rending tragedy at the end seem even darker. Written over 20 years by Bruce Wagner a limo driver turned screenwriter (like the one in the movie) who obviously has something of an inside track on the seamier side of Tinseltown.

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It gave Julianne Moore her second big role of 2014 and her sublime performance as Havana always on the edge of totally losing it won her the Best Actress Award at Cannes Film Festival in the summer. It also reunites her with the immensely talented Mia Wasikowska (they played mother and daughter in ‘The Kids Are Alright’) and this time she is superbly creepy as the deranged Agatha. Cronenberg reunites with Robert Pattinson who starred as the executive being driven around Manhattan all day in ‘Cosmopolis’, and this time it is he who plays the limo driver that Agatha all but forces into a relationship.

Olivia Wilde as the mother, John Cusack as the father, and a remarkable young TV actor called Evan Bird who was pitch perfect as Benjie the spoilt child star rounded out the cast.

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Like all Cronenberg’s work, this is a fascinating movie and even though it is hard to actually like, it is well worth seeing just for Ms Moore’s exquisite performance alone.

About the author: Roger Walker-Dack
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