Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Maps to the Stars (2014)

Film: Maps to the Stars (2014)
Stars: Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, Robert Pattinson, Olivia Williams, Sarah Gadon, Evan Bird
Director: David Cronenberg
Oscar History: While it's bizarre release schedule stopped it from gaining any Oscar traction, Moore did snag a Golden Globe nod for the film.
Snap Judgment Ranking: 2/5 stars

I have always been fascinated by the way that film handles the concept of celebrity.  Whether it's a movie like The Bling Ring, where it's being glamorized at the same time it's being skewered or whether it's like Maps to the Stars, where the manufactured glamour is barely concealed behind a veneer of ugliness, I find it voyeuristic and fantastic to watch what happens when Hollywood turns the unfiltered lens on itself.  We get a lot of juice and really some great monologues in Maps to the Stars, however the film itself isn't quite sharp enough and isn't scripted quite well enough to deliver on what some of the actors were promising in terms of excellence and game performances.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film's chief problem lies in having too many things to do.  The movie opens pretty abruptly on Agatha (Wasikowska) and Jerome (Pattinson), one a woman from Florida coming to Los Angeles after striking up a Twitter friendship with Carrie Fisher (which feels made up until the film bizarrely reveals it's true, making you wonder if you're just one clever DM from palling around with an A-lister) and the other a chauffeur who looks too beautiful to be driving around Hollywood who dreams of being an actor (which feels like it may be true for almost every young chauffeur in Los Angeles).  From there we end up introduced to a truly heinous teen star Benjie (Bird) who is plotting a comeback after a stint in rehab, his manager/producer mother (Williams), his self-help guru father (Cusack) and the film's best creation, a washed-up but still widely-known actress named Havana Segrand (Moore), a woman who is attempting to play a role in a film remake of her enormously famous mother's, and constantly feels haunted by her ghost.

The character of Havana Segrand almost makes the movie move into the good column by itself, as Moore is marvelous and the character is so delicious.  Havana is clearly someone who knows how the game is played in Hollywood-she's been an actress for years, but wants to strike up a comeback in a major way after her career and life seems to be in the toilet, and all the while she's haunted by her beautiful mother, who comes across as a Mommie Dearest meets Natalie Wood sort of figure from her past (she's played by Sarah Gadon, who still feels about two seconds away from being a major star, doesn't she?) and you spend a good chunk of the movie wondering who Moore has in mind when she's playing the character (is it Carrie Fisher, who makes a cameo appearance in the film, or Liza Minnelli or Tatum O'Neal or...the list goes on and on but you can see the fun here).  The thing about Moore's Havana is, though, that she comes across as completely scenery-chewing but extremely believable, and there's still enough glamour and intrigue there that you get why everyone who comes across her is mildly obsessed with her, even if she feels like a washed-out shell of a former star.  It's a fascinating performance, and one that I'm glad I caught (and the Globes noticed as well, even if that may have just been from Moore fever last year).

The rest of the cast kind of pales in comparison.  It's not like anyone is particularly bad, but Cronenberg makes the rest of the film come across as a bad Brett Easton Ellis novel.  The film doesn't really know what to do with all of the other characters, particularly Cusack and Williams as parents who are both destroying their child's life as well as essentially just trying to cling to money and fame, but it doesn't quite work.  Evan Bird's Benjie is a truly horrible human being, but you don't quite get enough of the public persona or the personal draw to understand how he became a star in the first-place, and there's not enough of a focus on the way that publicists manufacture an image to make that leap.  Mia Wasikowska is bizarre as a schizophrenic who is actually the long-lost daughter of Cusack and Williams (who tried to kill Benjie when she was younger), but this is part of a third act twist that doesn't really work except for the bizarre image of Julianne Moore being beaten to death by Wasikowska with a Genie Award (in one of those "only in Hollywood" twists, both Moore and Wasikowska were nominated for the modern-day equivalent of the Genie Award for this movie).  And Robert Pattinson's job is literally just to be pretty, so he more than meets the requirements but considering what his ex-love Kristen Stewart was able to accomplish this past year in Clouds of Sils Maria, he has to be wishing that there'd been more of a challenge in this role.

All being said, Maps to the Stars fails in my estimation, but it's a fascinating failure and one where, if you like unconventional cinema, you might want to give it a look (and if you're a Julianne Moore fan, you need to rent it immediately).  If you've seen the picture, please join in in the comments as I'd be intrigued about other people's takes as it's surely an interesting picture.

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