Maps to the Stars can be described as a take-off on Hollywood and celebrity and the people who inhabit this world, and boy what a world it is.
It’s a world created by David Cronenberg, who also directed. He’s the man who last brought us 2012’s Cosmopolis but he is more well known for the much better received A History of Violence and Eastern Promises. Maps to the Stars is not a normal movie, in other words, it’s not what it says on the tin. It’s surreal, dark, black, and intense. It’s a movie that is desperately trying to show us the inhabitants of Hollywood, and their dreams, and their need for fame and validation.
There are several lead characters in the film, but it mostly belongs to Julianne Moore. She plays ageing actress Havana Segrand. While she’s not that old, she can’t get the parts she used to get, but one part that she really wants is to play a part her late mother once played. Segrand seems to live in the shadow of her more legendary mother, who died in a mysterious fire, yet is not a stable woman – though she lives in a huge house that befits a famous film star. Even though Segrand is surrounded by people all the time, including her agent, her personal assistant Agatha Weiss (Mia Wasikoska), and her visits to self-help guru Dr Sanford Weiss (John Cusack), she sees the ghost of he mother as a young girl around the house, and she doesn’t know why. Segrand is just one of the many strange characters in the film.
There’s also the already-mentioned Agatha Weiss. Her story is even more bizarre. She’s been kept in a psychiatric asylum in Jupiter, Florida since she was a young girl, after a horrible fire that left her with scars on her hand (she wears gloves) and face. It was a fire that appears to be one that she started, as she has been ostracised and totally rejected by her family. This includes her father, who happens to be Dr. Sanford Weiss. She’s obsessed with trying to re-enter the family circle, which she does, and on top of all this, there’s something really strange about her.
Dr Sanford Weiss is a famous television psychologist who offers New Age advice to his followers, as well as performing intimate bodywork on his celebrity clients, the rich and famous. He stars in his own television program that is constantly on in his household; he’s a strange egotistical man. He is also the author of best-selling self-help books with analysis for the troubled, which doesn’t help his 13-year old teenage son, Benjie Weiss (a very good Evan Bird).
Benjie Weiss is a teen sensation, a Beiberesque movie star who is making way to much money. He’s spoiled and screwed up. He’s a teen heartthrob (having starred in the big hit ‘Bad Babysitter’ and fresh from rehab – at the tender age of 13). He visits a sick girl in a hospital, to boost his reputation, and is told by his agent that the girl in dying of AIDS, but actually she tells him that she’s got Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. He’s pissed off and tells his agent off for providing him with the wrong information. The girl eventually dies and Benjie is haunted by her ghost – a ghost that he sees almost everywhere he goes. It’s a metaphor for his stardom, an attempt to bring him back down to earth perhaps? But it doesn’t, it makes him a lunatic to the point where he thinks he’s strangling her but he actually strangles the co-star of a new film that he’s doing. He’s jealous that this co-star is stealing scenes from him. The strangulation is a chilling scene, and all too surreal by the reaction of his mother, Cristina Weiss (Olivia Williams). She’s not your typical celebrity mother; she’s a bit backwards and emotionally unstable, paranoid if you will, who is more concerned about her son’s ability to make more money than for his personal well-being.
The Weiss family is one screwed up family. Robert Pattison shows up as perhaps the only sane person in the movie. He’s Jerome, a limo driver who happens to pick up Agatha when she arrives in Los Angeles. He’s not just a limo driver, he’s also a part-time actor and has fallen for Agatha, but also gets seduced by Havana. After their sexual romp all hell breaks lose and Agatha goes on a rampage.
Maps to the Stars is an exaggerated take off on Hollywood and it’s denizens. It’s a film that is a distorted view on celebrity culture, but to the extreme, with highs and the very lows, with ghosts from their past thrown in for scary effect. It’s a film where the characters are all very unlikeable, so unlikeable that you sort of wish they would all kill themselves. Maps to the Stars uses Los Angeles and Hollywood as the backdrop, with parts of the film shot on the Hollywood walk of fame and under the famous Hollywood sign, to give it an authentic feel.
Most people say that Hollywood is fake and artificial, which is observed well in this film. It’s fake, dark, make believe, artificial and over the top, with celebrities swallowed up by their obsessions with success, celebrity and money, and perhaps this is what Hollywood is all about?
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Tim Baros writes film and theatre articles/ reviews for Pride Life and The American magazines and websites, as well as for Hereisthecity.com, Blu-RayDefinition.com and TheGayUK.com. He has also written for In Touch and TNT Magazines, SquareMile.com and LatinoLife.co.uk. He is a voting member for the UK Regional Critics Circle and the Gay & Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association (GALECA – of which he is the UK representative). In addition, he has produced and directed two films: The Shirt and Rex Melville Desire: The Musical.