Life//Film / TV
by Matt Ayres
Regarded for his work in the psychological horror genre, it’s fitting that David Cronenberg’s latest drama is set in a place where human psyches are routinely warped by the pressures of fame, money and power.
Maps To The Stars is a scathing satire on modern Hollywood; a 112 minute Tinseltown tour focused on exposing the unhinged personalities behind tinted limousine windows and the walls of Beverley Hills mansions. By its conclusion, you’ll be grateful that those dreams of big screen stardom never came true.
We’re introduced to LA life through the eyes of central schizophrenic Agatha (Mia Wasikowska). Stepping bleary eyed from a Greyhound bus, her first local encounter is Jerome (Robert Pattinson), a trying-but-failing actor and writer whose only claim to fame is being the one-time chauffeur of Al Gore. In the shadow of the Hollywood sign, the pair stand conversing about aspirations to rise through the ranks of the celebrity food chain, blind to a jungle of sabotage, betrayal and dishonesty surrounding them.
Agatha finds work as a personal assistant for one of the industry’s most messed up predators. Havana Segrand, played with psychotic brilliance by Julianne Moore, is plagued by the ghost of her abusive movie star mother (Sarah Gaddon). The aging actress’s twisted mind is set on starring in a remake of the classic film that made her mum famous, but struggles to cope with the realities of being consistently outshone by younger film stars and her predecessor’s illustrious career.
Meanwhile, the family of 13-year-old Bieber-esque superstar Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird) are desperately trying to feign normality against a backdrop of domestic anarchy. The young actor, barely big enough for his high-top trainers, is proof of the damning effect that a celebrity lifestyle can have on an immature mind. But the boy’s parents, a New Age pseudo-therapist egomaniac (John Cusack) and frosty, chainsmoking career manager (Olivia Williams), are more concerned about the potential PR disaster that will ensue as their son descends into the throngs of insanity.
As the lives of these unhinged characters dangerously intertwine with surreal and tragic consequences, Cronenberg’s satire illuminates the hidden horrors that our culture of glamourising celebrities can spawn. The story journeys from subtle signs of madness to senselessly violent acts, but the most unsettling moments come from the dead-eyed smiles that these stars flash one another as they hide their streaks of psychosis while shopping on Rodeo Drive.
In its shrewd reflection of Hollywood immorality, Maps to the Stars will compel culture-savvy audiences in the same acute way as one of its director’s more brutal horror spectacles.