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'Maps to the Stars' Movie Review: An Entertaining, Damning Portrayal of Hollywood

First Posted: Mar 06, 2015 02:40 PM EST
Maps to the Stars

Photo : Focus Features

Hollywood has always been criticized for its glitz and glam and for its superficiality.

This is the subject matter of David Cronenberg's latest film "Maps to the Stars." The movie is a damning portrait of the Hollywood industry showing actors, producers and directors in a superficial environment that breaks families and leads to atrocities. While dark in context, Cronenberg easily finds the comic touches in this chaotic society and provides his most entertaining film since 2007's "Eastern Promises."

"Maps to the Stars" tells the story of a Hollywood family chasing fame, one another and the relentless ghosts of their pasts. At the center of the story is Agatha Weiss (Mia Wasikowska), a mysterious girl who returns to Hollywood in search of her family and who forms an unlikely bond with a cab driver (Robert Pattinson), also an aspiring actor.

Like David Cronenberg's last two films "Cosmopolis" and "A Dangerous Method," "Maps to the Stars" is grounded in conversations. However, where this film differs is that the dialogue comes off as more realistic that in his other two efforts. The conversations, while sometimes about philosophical ideas, mostly serve as a means of developing the characters or finding back story to the film. Each scene drives the plot forward as opposed to the latter two films mentioned.

The movie also benefits from excellent turns from the cast. Julianne Moore, who won the Cannes Film Festival award for Best Actress and was nominated for the Golden Globe for her role as Havana Segrand, is erratic and the essence of chaos. Havana is a washed-up actress attempting to revive her career. In order to do so, she seeks out a role her mother, also an actress (Sarah Gadon), played in the past.

Moore is excellent in the film as one moment she can be calm and calculating, but suddenly, she will have outbursts showing her depressed state. In one scene when she is meditating and listening to a message in which she learns that she was rejected from a role, Moore seems to be composed. However, she quickly screams at the top of her lungs in a state of desperation. Other moments sees Moore's Havana dancing joyfully and then quickly becoming a conniving and superficially motivated woman.

Wasikowska is the mysterious Agatha, who hides behind her facial scars of the past. When she arrives Agatha is easily manipulated by the glamorous landscapes and by her Twitter friendship with Carrie Fisher. She accepts a job with Havana, and even though she is treated terribly by the actress, she is content to be working in a large mansion and living comfortably. However, Wasikowska's vulnerability is quickly revealed as she encounters her long lost relatives and that spirals her emotions out of control. Wasikowska's character quickly turns into a tortured and violent young girl.

Evan Bird easily turns in the breakout role of his career as Benjie Weiss, a young child actor who is recovering from drug and alcohol abuse. Bird plays Benjie as an arrogant and indifferent actor who only sees the money and the luxuries. Like Moore's Havana, Benjie is out of control. One moment he could be pointing a gun at his friends, and the next he hallucinates about a young girl who he saw die. However, while Bird can easily convey the disgust of Hollywood, he also brings out the ravaging consequences of obsessive stage parents.

Robert Pattinson once again shows his ever-growing acting chops in the role of Jerome. In his second film with Cronenberg, Pattinson's Jerome is easily starstruck and manipulated. While his Jerome seems to be a bit more grounded and is trying to work to become a great actor, he too is easily sold by the glamorous lifestyle and by the tempting circumstances.  

Olivia Williams is also excellent as Christina Weiss, Benjie's mother. She is a manipulative and cold-hearted mother, but her weakness comes out with the appearance of Agatha. Meanwhile, John Cusack's narcissistic Stafford Weiss is the actor's best role in years. He is loud, his voice a sign of his dominance over others. Even if the content is not always comprehensible, it emphasizes just how sometimes strength is all that is needed to be in control and in power. 

Sarah Gadon, who reunites with Cronenberg for the third straight film, makes a strong Clarice Taggart, Havana's mother. Gadon appears briefly in the film, but her scenes are chilling and it shows her in her most perverse role to date.   

"Maps to the Stars" is definitely Cronenberg's most audacious film in years and one that will easily entertain most but could divide others.   

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