Maps to the Stars starts out promisingly enough.
Havana (Julianne Moore) is an actress on the waning edge of celebrity determined to get a job playing her mother, a one-time starlet who died tragically in a house fire when Havana was just a child. Into her life comes new personal assistant Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), who’s obsessed with the starry glitz of Los Angeles and wears elbow-length gloves to cover up mysterious burn scars. She meets chauffeur Jerome (Robert Pattinson), a wannabe-actor who’s also working on a script, as all Angelenos are supposed to be. Rounding out the main cast is the Weiss family: Father Stafford (John Cusack), a celebrity therapist who counts Havana among his clients; son Benjie (Evan Bird), a teen terror who’s basically the film version of Justin Bieber, devoted teenage girl fanbase and atrocious behind-the-scenes behavior included; and brittle mother/manager Christina (Olivia), quietly troubled by her son’s substance abuse even as enables it by downplaying its seriousness to money-hungry studio execs.
There’s suspense, with Agatha’s mysterious connection to the Weisses. There’s psychological horror tinged with the supernatural in Hanava’s hallucinations of her dead mother (Sarah Gadon). And there’s comedy in Moore’s portrayal of a narcissistic actress. And yet… none of that goes anywhere. Bruce Wagner’s script quickly turns into a shambling mess, trotting out ever more sordid revelations without even a hint of some wider purpose. What director David Cronenberg seems to be saying with Maps to the Stars is that Hollywood turns everyone–child stars like Benji, outsiders like Agatha, wannabes like Jerome, has-beens like Havana–into monsters. But… we get it, David. In 111 minutes, and after decades of working in the industry, that’s all you have to say? That’s the entire point? That’s it?
The film’s downfall is its lack of nuance. How many instances of incest does one really need, y’know? Aside from Moore, who’s brilliant here, everyone’s acting is deadpan–one imagines that was a conscious choice on the part of Cronenberg so as to make some point about the empty nature of Hollywood, but without providing anything substantial himself, the emptiness leaks to the film. If you want something with impassive characters, fucked-up family dynamics, and Mia Wasikowska, just watch Park Chan-wook’s English language debut Stoker (2013) and give this one a pass.