Editor’s note: Our “Double Exposure” reviews pit two or more critics against one another on the same film to hash out their differences in opinion. Agree with what we have to say or want to offer your own take? Leave it in the comments below.
Final Rating: 8.0 out of 10
Bottom Line: “Maps to the Stars,” David Cronenberg’s blistering satire of American celebrity culture, works to expose Hollywood while telling its own twisted, dark story.
Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10
Bottom Line: “Maps to the Stars” certainly boasts some unsettling scenes, along with a couple of satisfying performances from the likes of Mia Wasikowska and Julianne Moore, yet it is ultimately a relatively empty, lackluster attempt at Hollywood satire.
“Maps to the Stars” tracks a series of Hollywood actors whose lives collide after Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), a young woman with a scarred face, arrives in L.A. with hidden intentions.
Jess Brooman: Earlier in 2012 with his film “Cosmopolis,” David Cronenberg started back down a slippery slope of material that was as confusing as it was disturbing. His latest film “Maps to the Stars,” marks this relapse into simply unsettling, cynical weirdness. As the first of his films to actually shoot in the states, it is just as concerned with a deteriorating society as “Cosmopolis” was, but instead centers on the Hollywood darkness that is the entertainment industry. When the film opens with Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) hiring a limo driver played by Robert Pattinson, it feels as though Cronenberg has simply shifted the “Cosmopolis” setup over to the west coast. But rather than following one particular character, “Maps to the Stars” focuses on a host of industry stereotypes and cliches.
Taylor: Since “Magnolia” I’ve had a problem with Julianne Moore being cast for her ability to crumble into hysterics, so with her Best Actress win at Cannes in my mind I was somewhat disconcerted when she first appears on screen – what else – in hysterics, while deliriously reliving childhood abuse. When I said “Oh great, here we go” during that scene, it was with sarcasm. But viewing the film a second time, it’s with genuine excitement to witness her agile, fluid performance as she “keeps up with appearances” while truly flailing in her private life. One transition from her “Hollywood” personality to her true self was so jarring and disturbing, I couldn’t help but curse aloud in shock. Havana remarks at one point that a role she’s being considered for was “made for ‘Best Supporting’,” and if “Maps to the Stars” secures a U.S. release before the end of the year this line could be the perfect meta touch – Moore is working at career-best levels.
Jess: Moore’s performance initially threw me off too, she’s certainly known for getting hysterical on screen, along with baring all for one reason or another, but here I think it worked. As Havana, she’s reached the lowest levels of desperation and vulnerability. At times it feels as though Cronenberg wants us to sympathize with these rich and famous freaks, despite how shallow and insipid they are. There is that small glimmer of sad, pathetic humanity to these people that is exposed once they are out of the public eye, but not so much that we care when something bad happens to them. “Maps to the Stars” is both nasty and brutish, but certainly not short, so it is oftentimes a patience-tester.
Taylor: See, I think that Cronenberg’s great trick here is that he hasn’t included us – the audience – in the film. We’re not represented at all, and without the easy lens of a single, relatable point of view character, “Maps to the Stars” may appear, to us, to take place in an alien world. These characters are living in a culture unto their own – one defined by status and spent on film sets and in lavish, empty mansions. Each time we’re given a strand of humanity to connect with – a moral decision we could imagine ourselves making, or an everyday frustration – we grasp for it but it dissolves by the true ugliness of these people. Cronenberg is taking the ugly truth of Hollywood and extrapolating it to the point of wild fantasy to show us how very near we are to the complete devolution of our own species by the hand of stardom.
Taylor: But by capturing the wild actions of these stars and would-bes with such a naturalistic aesthetic (Peter Suschitzky, Cronenberg’s go-to DP, shoots the film primarily with observational shots and practically motivated lighting), “Maps to the Stars” intentionally breaks apart the function of movies as perpetuators of “fame.” The characters, which we feel privileged to witness in what they believe is private company, are excessively vulgar and hypercritical – sizing up and tearing down. By the time we see Julianne Moore constipated on the toilet while casually talking with her assistant who she calls a “chore whore,” the fallacy of effortless glamour in Hollywood has dissipated. This duality of inflated reality and grounded fantasy resulted in, for me, an odd, but intellectually stimulating experience I could compare to the work of Jim Jarmusch, although for the mood, “American Psycho” may be a closer hit.
Jess: I see where you’re coming from with “American Psycho,” however “Maps to the Stars” didn’t give off anywhere near the same level of humor and snappy pacing that made the aforementioned classic so entertaining for me. Cronenberg’s endless black hole of misanthropy eventually swallows every aspect in “Maps to the Stars.” Ultimately, these are mostly appalling people doing truly appalling things to one another and themselves, so whilst that leads to the occasional hilarious bit of biting insight, its cynicism soon grows tiring the more inevitable it becomes. The further it delves into insanity, the crueler it gets.
Jess: The film definitely makes its opinion on the industry clear. As the characters and their stories clash and separate, the vicious nature of abuse rears its ugly head, along with numerous motifs of psychological damage, incestuous tendencies, and the cleansing nature of fire. All of these are placed against the backdrop of the dark, and sometimes grotesque world of movie-making, however these themes often struggle to successfully work together, with actors at times appearing to be reading from two different scripts. As a result the film gives us the impression that Cronenberg tried far too many elements at once with this one, that didn’t quite mesh together like they could have if there was more focus.
Taylor: I would argue that the only missteps that Cronenberg makes with this film are the result of trying to please the average movie-goer. A few name-checks and digs on real-life celebrities (an Anne Hathaway diss comes out of nowhere) feel written in over a place-holder in the screenplay that reads “[RELATABLE JOKE].” One character, a 13-year-old superstar actor by way of Justin Bieber, played by Evan Bird, for two-thirds of the film does little more than offer aggressive teen humor. His character does bloom by the end, and having a child star is a necessary component, but there are moments designed for comedic relief that, as you said, feel spliced in from two different scripts. All of these pitfalls resulted from attempts at making the film more approachable and broadly entertaining, so I didn’t receive this quite as well as something like “Only Lovers Left Alive” – a film even more committed to personal vision.
Still, though, I feel a lot of what you took issue with were some of the aspects that made it special for me. Pattinson’s limited role in the film I believe was by design. I don’t think Cronenberg is unaware of the fact that massive fan clubs of teenaged girls have been formed to worship Pattinson’s every move post-“Twilight.” It was fascinating to me to see his persona and real-world success disassembled back to the start of his career. His character in “Maps to the Stars” talks about writing scripts and auditioning for roles, but we only see him working as a limo driver until he gets a small part on what appears to be a terrible, campy sci-fi film. This could have so easily been the real-life Pattinson’s story, and the interaction between reality and the narrative was very rewarding for me.
Jess: I completely agree that this is likely the approach that Cronenberg was trying to take with Pattinson’s character, and this is an interesting insight that I hadn’t considered. However looking back retrospectively, I still don’t get that impression from him, which is likely due to Pattinson’s particularly flat acting, and lack of character personality. Had this role been offered to someone else, preferably a new face to further fit the newbie actor role, I believe it had the potential to work much better.
Think Taylor and Jess made some good points? Do you disagree with them? Leave a comment below with your thoughts on “Maps to the Stars.”
UK: September 26, 2014 | USA: Early 2015
1 hr. 51 min.
Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson, John Cusack, Sarah Gadon, Carrie Fisher, Olivia Williams, Niamh Wilson, Evan Bird