Movie Review: “Maps to the Stars”

Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson, John Cusack, Olivia Williams, Evan Bird, Sarah Gadon
David Cronenberg

Less than a week after Hollywood celebrated itself at the Oscars in a televised circus of fashions, overlong acceptance speeches and underrepresented diversity, Canadian director David Cronenberg reminds us why even Hollywood excesses should have a limit in the weirdly satirical hybrid “Maps to the Stars.” The director best known for such classics as “The Fly,” “Scanners” and “A History of Violence” breaks new ground by filming in the States. It’s just too bad that he wasted the trip on such a manic, dated project filled with cynicism, incest and runaway egos.

Just off the bus is the fresh-faced but hideously scarred Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), a burn victim who seems to take things way too much in stride. Introducing herself as being from Jupiter (the city, not the planet), Agatha instantly attaches herself to her limo driver, Jerome (Robert Pattison). Of course, what would a limo driver be in this town without acting and/or writing aspirations? Jerome is all too quick to write her off as just another weird client who happens to be a really good tipper, but Agatha grows on him as she does with many people in the film. Thanks to social media and Carrie Fisher, who stars as herself, Agatha manages to quickly find a job as a personal assistant, or “chore whore,” to aging C-lister Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore). When Havana isn’t grasping to any last chance at stardom, she’s having fierce arguments with her dead mother (Sarah Gadon), who has no problems telling her what a disappointment she is.

Dysfunctional family time and visits from the beyond aren’t exclusive to the Segrand household, as we bounce back and forth between there and the Weiss compound. Agatha’s kid brother Benjie (Evan Bird) is 13 going on 40. He’s facing his own need for a ghostbuster with all the uncut crassness of a thousand Bieber clones rolled into one. Benjie’s the star of the “Bad Babysitter” franchise, which was so lucrative that stage mom Cristina (Olivia Williams) takes pride in squeezing out a multimillion dollar payday as if she were the real star. His dad, Stafford (John Cusack), is a self-help guru who rarely smiles, talks as though he’s three steps ahead of everyone, and administers a near-sadistic type of scream therapy to Havana.

“Maps to the Stars” might’ve been quite a head-turner back in the nineties, before the onslaught of reality TV. Nothing about the film is all that titillating or revealing after years of “True Hollywood” stories, TMZ and weekly Kardashian adventures. The incest angle is strong in this film, as if it were one last effort designed to stick to a wall of tired ideas. Even a strange looking threesome with Havana hardly raises interest, as you’re not sure whether to be turned on or hold in the laughter.

Speaking of which, there are some funny moments here, but the director sends the audience in so many directions that you’re never quite certain if the film is supposed to be satire or science fiction. When you’re not sure if Dr. Phil or Dr. Who is going to show up, that’s never a good sign. Between the title and the name dropping, you’d have expected to see a lot more stars (B-list or otherwise) in this film.

Having said that, the performances by Moore and Bird are certainly noteworthy. Moore’s performance shows a spectrum of emotions, from giddiness over a colleague’s tragedy, to downright nastiness in her final scene with Agatha. With each scene just as intense as the last, it’s no wonder that she nabbed the Best Actress prize at Cannes last year for her performance. Bird’s portrayal is pure evil from start to finish. Even when he’s freaked out by ghosts of his own, he’s defiant, never letting himself truly become human. It’s a guilty pleasure watching him while you wait for his character to get what’s coming to him.

Making fun of Tinseltown isn’t new, but it can still be a lot of fun and even make us think, a point hammered home by 2013 Oscar host Seth MacFarlane (which is probably why he wasn’t invited back). Cronenberg and writer Bruce Wagner had a chance to do both, but instead, they followed a map with a very weak destination.