Fresh off her Oscar win for Still Alice, Julianne Moore takes on a quite different role in David Cronenberg’s new film, Maps to the Stars. Moore may have earned a Golden Globe nomination and Cannes award for playing Havana Segrand, a desperate, aging actress trying to secure the “role of a lifetime,” but it’s Mia Wasikowska, who once again astounds us with her portrayal of Agatha, Havana’s new assistant.
Maps to the Stars follows two families navigating their way through the film industry. The Weiss family is on the brink of fame. Their son, Benji (Evan Bird), is filming a sequel to his popular movie franchise. His mother, Christina (Olivia Williams), is his manager and protector, and his father, Jerome (John Cusack) is a famous self-help guru and therapist. The Weiss’s strive for fame and perfection, which obviously already got to Benji since he just finished a stint in rehab. (The kid is only 13.)
Havana Segrand is battling her own demons. A movie is being developed, a biopic based on her famous mother (played by Sarah Gadon), who was also an actress. Havana wants the role desperately, and we spend much of the movie seeing her try to nab it. All the while, we watch Havana deal with her past. Her mother was abusive, and visions of her dead mom pop up and torture Havana.
All of these characters’ lives ultimately get connected by Agatha’s unexpected arrival in town.
Maps to the Stars has to be one of the most horrific black comedies I’ve ever seen. It’s twisted, uncomfortable, and satirical. Everything you would expect from a Cronenberg comedy of sorts. The way the story unravels is riveting, even if it’s not exactly great. The tones are jumbled, and for a meditation on the rich and famous, it (appropriately?) felt a little too shallow at times.
However, a combination of biting dialogue and well-acted performances make Maps to the Stars worth the watch. Wasikowska is creepy and sly as the mysterious and odd Agatha. Once her disturbing intentions are clear, “what the f…” is a more than appropriate reaction. Moore doesn’t hold back with Havana; her performance had the most gusto. Still, the rest of the supporting cast, including Robert Pattinson, are very good in their roles. I especially would like to mention Sarah Gadon for playing Havana’s mother oh-so-deviously. I appreciated that the dead mother was an actual character in the movie, and Gadon brings Havana’s nightmares to life with a noteworthy performance.
I first saw Maps to the Stars at the New York Film Festival last year, and it’s safe to say that the audience, including myself, reacted with a stunned silence after the screening. The last act is a freakin’ doozy. Despite the film’s flaws, Cronenberg lands a well-executed and very memorable ending. Fans of the director will eat Maps to the Stars up; it delivers on all of the things fans love from Cronenberg as he tackles a different genre. For everyone else, it’s a one-time movie experience that you don’t really regret but aren’t eager to have again (at least anytime soon).
Maps to the Stars opens in select theaters on February 27, 2015.