Can celebrities be numbingly boring? As far as “Maps to the Stars” is concerned the answer is a big fat “Yes,” but in the hands of David Cronenberg (“A Dangerous Method,” “Eastern Promises”) you hardly notice. Ennui and varying degrees of hysteria define this Hollywood fable where everyone is a monster, feeding off their own paranoia born of colossal self-obsession. If you’ve ever wondered what being a celebrity is like — and “Maps to the Stars” probably offers a good approximation of the truth — it’s a world where people just can’t stop talking about themselves, whether they have an audience or not.
Having said that, watching A-listers engage in a grand game of self-spoof and satire is nothing short of fascinating. But then Hollywood has always been good at eliciting laughs (and tears) at its own expense, from Orson Welles and Charlie Chaplin to David Lynch and Tim Robbins in “The Player.” There are no shortage of examples. And yet, despite the sameness and predictability of it all, these stories are almost always entertaining. “Maps to the Stars” is no exception and the title is telling: There’s more than one map to reach the same destination.
“Maps” charts the lives of the Weiss family, who are living the typical Hollywood success story in which the mom, Christina (Olivia Williams), tends to the career of her 13-year-old child actor son, Benjie (Evan Bird), and dad, Stafford (John Cusack), is a self-help coach catering exclusively to the celebrity bunch.
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||111 minutes|
The family unit is thrown off course when their pyromaniac daughter Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) is released from the sanatorium where she had been receiving treatment for the last few years, and turns up in Los Angeles wanting “to make amends.”
Compared to her family, Agatha seems quirky and interesting though her teenage mood swings can be annoying as hell. She develops a starry-eyed worship for actress Havana (an excellent Julianne Moore) who pines to star in a remake of a movie that made her dead mother Clarice — a 1960s siren reminiscent of Tippi Hedren — famous. At night and in her dark moments, Clarice appears to taunt and torture Havana. This is all the more painful for the daughter who is in middle age now while her mother, who died in a fire at the peak of her career, looks fresh and virginal.
That’s partly the reason why Havana hires Agatha as a personal assistant. The girl is disfigured and scarred from a fire she had set herself, and poses no threats in terms of youthful comeliness. On the other hand, the star is spooked by her new protege and says, “You don’t see Halle Berry and Nicole Kidman hiring scary little animals!”
On many levels, we haven’t seen Cronenberg so assured of his footing since “Crash” and “Existenz,” in which his rapier-like observations of modern society were striking social statements. In “Maps” he places a sliver of Hollywood under the microscope. Events and emotions collide, giving way to some beautiful, if totally eerie, visual splashes.