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Review: Maps to the Stars (TIFF 2014)

Maps to the Stars (TIFF 2014)
09.04.2014
6 10

PLOT: A young burn victim (Mia Wasikowska) comes to Hollywood, where she winds up working for an ageing actress (Julianne Moore) bent on a staging a comeback.

REVIEW: Confounding. That's the only word I can think of that accurately describes David Cronenberg's latest, MAPS TO THE STARS. Following his divisive COSMOPOLIS, his follow-up is similar to that film in many ways, with this taking another satiric look at the lives of the young, glamorous, and privileged. Instead of the cutthroat world of big business and global monopolies, here his gaze turns to a subject that should be near and dear to him – Hollywood.

Cronenberg's a director who – for much of his career – has operated outside the system, with his bizarre perspective only rarely meshing with Hollywood (with THE FLY standing as one of the most successful examples). Clearly, the town made a big impression on him, and not for the positive, with MAPS TO THE STARS introducing a truly loathsome set of characters, with Hollywood depicted as the kind of place where people are literally commodities, and where success actually has very little to do with talent. Basically, what you see on TMZ every night.

At first, Mia Wasikowska's character seems like a take-off on the familiar Hollywood stock character, of the bright-eyed, optimistic young thing who gets off the bus with stars in her eyes. Inevitably, she's a distinctly Cronenberg-style variation on the type, with her burns hiding a dark secret that links her to a local power-couple, played by John Cusack as a kind of new-age guru, and Olivia Williams, who manages their teen idol son Benji's career with an iron grip.

Young Evan Bird, as the thirteen-year-old Benji, generated a substantial amount of controversy coming out of the Cannes screening and it's easy to see why. Bird's mannerisms, from his defensive chest-out posture, to his swagger seem deliberately based on Justin Bieber, and truly this is a loathsome caricature, with him an energy-drink swilling sociopath who hurls antisemitic epithets at his handler, acts faux-tough, brandishes a gun, murders a dog and worse. It can't be denied though that Bird does a great job, although it's a vicious send-up. Even if the Bieber connection is being exaggerated, the type here will be familiar to anyone who's every watched an “E True Hollywood Story.”

The good news about MAPS TO THE STARS is that it's a much better film than COSMOPOLIS. While it's still a bit of a mess, for much of its running time it's actually quite funny, with the “inside Hollywood” jokes cracking up the TIFF industry folks at the screening I attended. In addition to Bird, Wasikowska has a haunting quality that makes her a good fit for Cronenberg, while Robert Pattinson nails a small part as the wannabe actor-writer she has a crush on. Even better is Julianne Moore, who plays a kind-of middle aged take-off on Lindsay Lohan, who at her best seems dumb, but gradually reveals herself to be cunning and near-psychotic in her maneuverings around town.

MAPS TO THE STARS only really starts to go off the rails in the second half, with the last half hour being a bit of a struggle to get through as it gets more surreal. That used to be an area Cronenberg excelled in but it doesn't quite work here, with the film being better when it was a straight-up satire, with the ending being a bit of a mess.

Nonetheless, David Cronenberg being behind the camera still makes this an obligatory watch for film fanatics, and at least it's half good, which is more than could be said for COSMOPOLIS. While it's not the return to form a lot of us have been anticipating, it shows that Cronenberg still has his finger on the pulse of a lot of what's happening in pop culture at the moment and his distaste is contagious.

Source: JoBlo.com

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