Maps_to_the_Stars_poster

Director: David Cronenberg

Writer: Bruce Wagner

Country: Canada / USA / Germany / France

Runtime: 111 mins

“Bad Babysitter” reads the lettering on Agatha Weiss’s (Mia Wasikowska) sweatshirt, as she lies asleep in a coach driving through the night towards Hollywood. These words turn out to carry a heavy weight of significance in this dark, Gothic nightmare from writer Bruce Wagner and director David Cronenberg. Wagner’s script draws upon his own experiences as a former Hollywood limousine driver who would often give fake tours to visitors. According to Wagner, Maps to the Stars “doesn’t have a satirical bone in its elegiac, messy, hysterical body. I’ve given you the lay of the land as I see it, saw it, and lived it”.

Jerome Fontana (Robert Pattison) is the first person that Agatha encounters when she arrives in Hollywood. He is a wannabe script writer working as a hire driver. As they motor in the sunshine past the palm trees, Fontana points out the homes of the stars. When he mentions Juliet Lewis Agatha remarks that she is a scientologist, to which Fontana responds “I was thinking of converting – as a career move”. This level of self-absorbed ambition is characteristic of almost everyone we meet during the course of the film.

Agatha, who is badly scarred from a fire, gets a job working for actress Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), who has reached that age when the parts start to dry up for women in an industry obsessed by female youth and beauty. Segrand is desperate for a role in an upcoming movie remake, a role that was played by her mother in the original. But she is also troubled by the memories (possibly false) of sexual abuse that she suffered at the hands of her mother. These memories were recovered with the assistance of a bogus therapist, Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), who claims that life traumas reside in the body (“I’m gonna press on a personal history point – it’s stored in the thighs”). Dr. Weiss is married to Christina (Olivia Williams), who is the pushy mother/agent of troubled teenage TV star Benjie (Evan Bird), whose career is just getting back on track after a period in rehab.

None of these people are happy. They are all weighed down by unsatisfied ambitions, dark secrets, or ghosts. In fact, the story really starts to take off when Havana Segrand literally sees a ghost (or is it all in her mind?). Benjie then also starts to see apparitions. But it is the arrival of Agatha that provides the catalyst for people’s lives to unravel. The film ends as it began, with a journey into darkness.

By the very nature of its subject matter, Maps to the Stars doesn’t have any characters that we can easily empathise with from the outset, which might account for its rather mixed critical reception. However, the performances are uniformly well-delivered, there are some fine flashes of dark humour, and my own attention was easily held by the gradual revelations leading eventually to the uncovering of the thread that connects all the characters.

This is a fine addition to David Cronenberg’s oeuvre, perhaps closest in mood to Dead Ringers, except where that movie followed in the director’s early tradition of body horror the darkness at the heart of Maps to the Stars is purely psychological.

Rating: 10/10

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