Maps to the Stars finds director David Cronenberg still happy in his work. A little kinder. A little gentler. His vivisection theatre slant on what makes the human animal tick, pulse, convulse, or do existential harm to loved ones is always cerebral and literate. Identity horror instead of body horror has always been a better tag for his work. Who are you really and is your prefrontal cortex even aware it’s barbwire-cage-matching itself? I’d love to prod at this a little. In a cinematic fashion.
Agatha, the estranged sister of an insufferable child movie star, is returning home via bus to Los Angeles. She’s lived away from her younger brother for years after attempting to kill him, setting fire to their home and suffering burns over most of her body. Their father is a self help guru, tending to actress Havana Segrand, an insecure, self-centered basket case, whose repressed incest memories play into her desire to remake a beloved film that starred her deceased mother. No director wants to touch her for the role and the ghost of her mother keeps reminding her why. Agatha believes she’s destined to be with her brother Benjie who’s fresh from rehab and trying to start his career again. Agatha’s father and mother intend to keep her away from her brother, their cash cow. Agatha begins working for Havana. Ghosts have entered Benjie’s waking hours. They’re bringing these troubled, awful people to a terrible place. Hollywood.
Cronenberg does his best work (The Fly, Dead Ringers, A History of Violence) when a balance is struck between appreciation for the human condition and the squeamish psycho-melodrama we can perpetrate. Hollywood seems an especially perfect fit. But good as the film is, it isn’t quite a showstopper. Fun and snarky, the “Hollywood” cheap shots are a little off kilter in the proceedings. Better served to be a touch more Day of the Locust than The Player.
And be prepared. You may have loved her in Still Alice, but Julianne Moore as the unhinged and probably talentless Havana is loathsome, whatever the truth may be about her family history. Some critics gave the Oscar for this performance.
Yet Mia Wasikowska is the glue here. Terrible though her actions have been and will be, Agatha is touching and determined in her psychosis. She does what she does for dark, scaly reasons. Family reasons.
The proverb goes – “what’s bred in the bone won’t out of the flesh”. Buried traits won’t stay buried. Heartbreak isn’t a family trait. Can it lie in the bone? Will it always out? – [DVD] [Blu-Ray]
DVD Release Date: 4/14/15