Two years ago with “Cosmopolis,” and now with “Maps to the stars” Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg has been boosting his Hollywood cred with the appropriation of Robert Pattinson as his muse. Is this going to last much longer? While I waited to get into the Debussy theater for the film’s 7:30pm screening a journalist told me, ironically, “they’ll shoot another third movie together and that one will be their undoing.” Perhaps. Or not.
“Maps to the stars,” had its premiere tonight in Cannes and when Cronenberg brings a movie to Cannes, the theater is full and you will find journalists crowding the aisles and the stairs. This is the first film ever, surprisingly, which Cronenberg has shot in the U.S. (it was partly shot in Canada, too).
The Weisses, a family of Hollywood stars in want of fame. Their greed for recognition is causing their undoing.
The behind-the-scenes of a movie business family living in the Hills, the neuroses, the fixations and the phobias which regularly overtakes them and a lot of movie people living there as portrayed in “Maps to the stars” provide all the cliches about Hollywood generously. But they are cliches, and therefore not so accurate observations, so don’t be fooled. Cronenberg is not portraying Hollywood in the best light, although he did comment in the press that he wanted to make a parody. Some characters from “Maps” are more caricatural than others.
The character of Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore) is straight out of central casting: she’s a pill-popping tyro whose beauty has faded but who will fight tooth and claw for that part that will resuscitate her career.
One is compelled to ask, why make this movie? I used to feel more gratified when I watched a Cronenberg movie. There were things that were at stake, people had to resolve problems. The Weiss family looks like a bunch of clowns in a sandbox in comparison.
From the first to the last scene of “A history of violence” (2005) characters lived and breathed through me, I could understand their motivations, their pain was eventually made apparent to me. In “Maps to the stars,” David Cronenberg is pushing the irony, and our patience, to the limit, albeit with mighty impressive results, especially where the dialogue is concerned. The Bruce Wagner screenplay (Bruce Wagner is an avid writer and contributor who’s palled around with none other than Carlos Castaneda for a time, even acquiring a nom de guerre, Lorenzo Drake) has its screws turned on really tight, characters coasting from one scene to the next with great repartee (dialogue is this film’s strong suit, no dout about that).
John Cusack plays the father, he’s made a bunch of money as some TV self-help guru but wants to build his own empire. And both his children and his wife are disturbed (see the irony there?).
Segrand, Agatha Weiss (Mia Wasikowska), Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), and Cristina Weiss (Olivia Williams) are jumbles of messes and they are willing to get violent to get ahead. But I found these characters to be insufficiently nuanced. Benjie Weiss, the family’s young teenaged boy, played amazingly by Evan Bird, steals the show and managed, extraordinarily, to perpetrate his fifteen-going-on-sixty star child antics while displaying genuine surprise at seeing how quickly things can come undone around him.
“Maps to the stars”was a difficult movie to make, according to Cronenberg. And it was a difficult movie to watch, as it turns out. But it’s not without its rewards.
As an aside, I’ve been wondering why such a bankable actor as Robert Pattinson would be given the measly part as Jerome Fontana, limo driver, unless Cronenberg felt compelled to push the irony even further by installing Pattinson at the front of the limo, this time, as opposed to the back of it in a nod to their previous collaboration “Cosmopolis.”