Director David Cronenberg ("The Fly," "Scanners") takes a blowtorch to Hollywood's face with "Maps to the Stars," a scabrous, scary and darkly funny satire about movie stars, their agents, and their crazy kids.
Not since David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive" has Hollywood gotten such a severe, and entertaining, skewering. The two films have more than Hollywood satire in common in that they both stand as decent horror/mysteries as well.
Julianne Moore continues her roll of greatness as Havana Segrand. She's an aging actress with serious mommy issues. Havana's actually trying to land a role playing her own mother, a cult film star who died in a fire, when she hires the mysterious, newly arrived in SoCal Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) to be her assistant.
Elsewhere in Los Angeles, a spoiled brat child actor, Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird) is almost 90 days into sobriety, constantly sipping on sports drinks, and plotting his next move. He's visiting dying girls at the hospital (but getting the disease wrong) and still making youth-oriented films. Unfortunately for him, he's in that in-between age where younger, cuter child actors are starting to get all the good lines.
Benjie's dad, Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack) treats Havana through a combination of new-age tough mental and physical therapy in order to get at the roots of her self-esteem issues. Benjie's mom, Christina, frets over his latest roles and image concerns, and she harbors a lot of secrets. Of course, Benjie's parents, despite their apparent nurturing and dad's therapist pedigree, have raised one screwy kid.
Like this year's "Predestination," you find out that many of these characters are interlocked in strange, even sick ways. To talk about it any more would be to give too much away.
"Maps" works in two ways. You can watch it as a straightforward narrative that makes complete sense, or you can watch it as if it is all a dream, in which case it also makes perfect sense. It's a great puzzle movie where all of the pieces eventually fit nicely into place. Much credit goes to Cronenberg and screenwriter Bruce Wagner for putting together a story that works in parallel ways.
Contributing to the dreamscape quality is cinematography by Peter Suschitzky, who did the same for Cronenberg's last film, "Cosmopolis." That film had Robert Pattinson being driven around Manhattan in a stretch limo, while this film has Pattinson playing a limo driver in L.A. It appears that Pattinson is the go-to actor of choice when Cronenberg needs somebody to spend the majority of a character's time in a limo.
Moore, who won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival for this role last year, approaches Havana as a spoiled brat. She gives her voice just the right amount of whining to make her annoying enough to hate, but still fun to watch. Havana is a Hollywood monster, a pompous, messed-up diva whose every action and emotion is self directed. Her little song and dance after hearing about a tragic drowning sums up her character perfectly.
It's great to see Cusack here doing some fine work rather than slumming in "Hot Tub Time Machine 2," a piece of crap he managed to avoid. Cusack's career is all over the place as of late, but this is a nice return to form. Bird looks like a young Justin Timberlake and gives us a character that reminds of spoiled brat Justin Bieber.
Cronenberg and Wagner take some fun, nasty little shots at Hollywood practices like name dropping, sleeping with somebody for a part and trying to kill your costars. I'm thinking both men will have some explaining to do if certain somebodies should bump into them on studio lots or at premieres. They pull no punches, and they've probably brought a few Hollywood types to tears.