28 September 2014

Maps to the Stars Review

Over the past few months, a film that I had been really intrigued to watch had been the new David Cronenberg film, Maps to the Stars. The trailers made it look like a really intriguing pitch black satire on Hollywood and after Julianne Moore won Best Actress at Cannes my interest grew as Moore is one of my favourite actresses. After watching the film, I can say that, whilst it is a very interesting and very darkly comic film, it doesn't fully work.
The plot concerns the lives of a number of people in Hollywood, Agatha Weiss, a burn victim who has come to Hollywood from Florida, Havana Segrand, an aging actress overshadowed by her more famous mum and is trying to play a role her mother won heavy acclaim for, Benjie Weiss, a teen actor trying to restart his career after a stint in rehab with his mum as his manager, Stafford Weiss, a self-help guru who is helping Havana through her problems with her mum and Jerome Fontana, a limo driver with dreams of being an actor and writer. Through all of these people we see the darkest side of the film industry that is possible full of backstabbing for parts, jealousy, drugs and severely messed up families. Throughout the film, the family situations of Havana and the Weiss' comes more to the forefront and we see just how messed up they are, with themes of abuse and incest cropping up as the film goes on. Cronenberg's direction and Bruce Wagner's script chooses to play this more as melodrama, which helps to play up the satirical elements of the script and also serves to create some great moments of pitch black humour, the type of humour where you find yourself horrified that you're laughing at, which is something Cronenberg has always done brilliantly. However, there are elements in the plot that don't work as well. Whilst the psychological issues of the people is really interesting in theory, the way that it's presented doesn't fully work, mainly the visions that Havana has of her mum and some of the visions that Benjie has which feel like an attempt to hammer in his messed up nature. There is also an issue, one that I'll get more into later, in regards to some parts of the film simply not being as interesting to watch as others and, as a result, there were times when I wanted one part of the film to be over so I could get to another character.

This issue of wanting to see other actors mainly comes as a result of how good Julianne Moore is. She gives a suitably over-the-top performance for a person who is pretty much having a mental breakdown, she nails the egotistical nature of the Hollywood system, along with a sense of self-loathing, doing anything to gain attention, even accusing her mum of abusing her and a lot of the funniest moments in the film come as a result of her performance. This performance though could have been silly if there wasn't someone to suitably counteract her, and Mia Wasikowska plays this perfectly as Agatha with her calm nature providing a perfect juxtaposition to Moore. She also shows that there are issues with her character, from the costume design of her being in all black and wearing long black gloves all the time, to the constant repetition of a poem, you know that something wrong has happened to this person. Evan Bird meanwhile nails the spoiled Hollywood brat as Benjie, with there being a lot of parallels to people like Drew Barrymore (in terms of a breakdown whilst young) and especially Justin Bieber in his performance and when the psychological issues of the character start to crop up, Bird plays it brilliantly. John Cusack meanwhile does a good job as Stafford, showing how he always puts his own career ahead of his family but also showing that he will do anything to protect his family. There is also an element of satire in the whole character, with him being a self-help guru but it constantly looking like his methods of self-help are completely pointless and only serve to line his pockets. Robert Pattinson meanwhile serves as the only sane person in the film and his complete bemusement over the events of the film is brilliantly played, with his scenes serving as a nice counterbalance to Moore's, although he doesn't really get much to do. If there is a bad thing to say about the cast it's that Olivia Williams and Sarah Gadon don't get much to do throughout the film, although they do act their parts well, it just feels like the characters could have been written better, giving Williams and Gadon more to do.

Overall, despite there being a few elements of the film that don't really work, Maps to the Stars is still an engaging and darkly funny satire of Hollywood life, aided by strong direction by Cronenberg and a top notch performance from Julianne Moore.

My Rating: 3.5/5

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