The cryptic Tinseltown satire, “Maps to the Stars” is probably one side of Hollywood you’ll never want to see again. Following a passed-up actress, Havana Segrand and the unstable Weiss family, director David Cronenberg presents a side of show business that, for all I know, has never been so dramatically portrayed.
As a picture, it’s too heavy and dark for my liking. It purposely strays from the sought after Hollywood lifestyle some thirst for and identifies with a more common majority, the starving actor. Cronenberg’s examples, Segrand (Julianne Moore) and Benjie (Evan Bird) are cut from the same cloth. Both are paranoid from the sense of entitlement. Benjie, only 13 years old, is already a recovering addict who can’t get away from his child-star past as sequels to the “Bad Babysitter” franchise pile up. He’s desperate for his resume to start leading to older roles, but realizes he’s going nowhere and it’s all because he’s holding himself back. Havana is a washed up, well connected actress who can’t catch a break or get any of her “friends” to hook her up. She can’t even get a role in a remake of a film her Oscar-nominated mother, also her abuser, starred in, but that’s probably because nobody actually thinks she that talented.
Smartly, Cronenberg doesn’t shy away from real-world comparisons. For example, when Benjie’s studio expresses concern for his drugging and drinking habits, his support team parallels it to Drew Barrymore, who turned out better than fine. Such references, plus name-drops like Anne Hathaway and Emma Watson, create the realistic world these fictional characters are thrown into.
As well-drawn as some of it is, “Maps to the Stars” is difficult to watch, especially when Moore isn’t on screen. Bird is a grotesque character and his parents (John Cusack, Olivia Williams) aren’t any better. Mia Wasikowska’s Agatha is intriguing, but ultimately somewhat lame. Some of the scenes are slow or uncomfortable — like a threesome that felt unnecessary (although I love Moore’s distracted erotica: “Mention me when you’re talking to him!”) and a drunk-handling-a-gun scene that I hated (if you read my review of “The Bling Ring,” you know I despise those).
Moore’s Havana Segrand was the only character who kept me around, and boy did it pay off to stick around. In one of the last scenes of Cronenberg’s 111-minute film, Segrand seduces the attractive limo driver (Robert Pattinson) from the backseat, in a raspy voice brought on by a cold. These couple minutes are so erotic, so hot, they make all the mud you walked through to get there more than worth it. The way Moore owns her lines in the scene — for example, “Would you fuck me if I asked you to,” and “Are my holes better than her (Agatha’s) holes” — stimulates an unmatched response by us as viewers.
Moore is simply magic as Segrand, a whiny girl in one great scene outside of a cafe and a gross, constipated middle-aged woman without barriers in the bathroom of another sequence. This is the kind of award-warranting performance by an actor who makes an otherwise disappointing movie memorable.
But it’ll probably be a one-time thing for me. The Weiss family rightfully hangs onto a major plot line, but it wasn’t my taste. “Maps to the Stars” is too dark and eery, it makes me a little crazy. And if Cronenberg’s satire proves anything, it’s that “crazy” is not something you want to be.
“Maps to the Stars”: ★★