Written by the acerbic Bruce Wagner, Maps to the Stars is about the cynicism of the entertainment industry, about the actors who are motivated by vanity and the money-minded executives who exploit them. These people's heads have been long removed from their shoulders, their molly-coddled lives are run by other people as they incessantly try and top up their serotonin through drink, drugs, sex and bastardised spiritualism with increasingly less success. It has been called 'narratively unwieldy' by the 'tomato-meter', and the events in the latter stages of the film are certainly dramatic and in quick succession, however Maps to the Stars is a great, grotesque satire from David Cronenberg, who could also be described in such terms!
Julianne Moore is brilliantly unhinged and crude as Havana Segrand, a deeply warped, neurotic actress who's haunted by the vivid apparition of her actress mother Clarice Taggart (Sarah Gadon) who died in a fire. When she's isolated in her large home, she's never far away from a breakdown, and we see her experience particularly wayward instability as she obsesses over securing the lead role in the remake of a film her mother starred in. Havana has expired her Hollywood leading lady shelf-life, however she's desperate to be at the forefront of the business and in the process has ground herself down into a drug addled, hallucinating mess. Havana's manipulative conversations with colleagues makes for awkward viewing, she fawns at a moment's notice, even with people who privately drive her into psychotic episodes.
Evan Bird is very good as Benjie, a child star who is often obnoxious but really a product of his clearly unhealthy environment. He is introduced to us in a hospital room as he visits a young terminally ill fan with Hodgkins Lymphoma; when presented with such misery he deals with it the only way he knows how by arranging for her to be given an iPad. After this he has a brief argument with his adult assistant, the sweary exchange is concluded with Benjie calling him a 'Jew faggot'.
His sometimes vulgar, churlish exterior belies a rather precocious character with an articulacy that's beyond his years. Even when he's unpleasant he's not entirely loathsome, his language is so gratuitous that it was almost comical, especially when expressing his unashamed contempt for the sycophants around him. I suppose he was hard to take seriously owing to his elongated neck and sloped, pre-pubescent shoulders.
Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) is a timid, unusual young woman who, with multiple burns across her body, is destined to fail in the industry. She's in Los Angeles after corresponding with Carrie Fisher on Twitter, and Agatha soon finds herself being interviewed for the position of 'chore whore' for Havana. It is here that her burns actually help her odds in Hollywood, as the injuries remind Havana of her mother. It eventually arises that Agatha is in the city to 'make amends', unravelling a twisted cauldron of lies and incest.
John Cusack is also well cast as Stafford Weiss, the self-help charlatan father of Benjie who is made very creepy by Cusack's dark, dead eyes and blank expression. His wife is Christina (Olivia Williams), a woman bereft of any charisma who spends much of her time posturing anxiously with a cigarette in her hand.
Unlike Cosmopolis, Robert Pattinson's character Jerome Fontana, a shy limo driver with ambitions of being an actor/screenwriter, is strictly a supporting one. In a film full of freaks, Jerome is the ordinary Hollywood wannabe, the one with which we can most relate to. However it appears his foray into this glitzy, red carpeted hell is in its infancy, he mentions to Agatha early in the film, albeit half-heartedly, that he's considering Scientology for better career prospects, which is an amusing dig at both fad culture and that absurd, unsettling religion.
I'm not sure what to make of the film's final act, everything goes awry for the characters in a manner that is perhaps too fast and too crazy. I tried to get the measure of the aberrance and the immorality upon leaving the cinema, I wondered whether Maps to the Stars was grounded in much reality, I then remembered Natalie Wood, the Black Dahlia, Elliot Rodger and the myriad other of Hollywood's victims, pill- poppers and prima donnas.