By Don Simpson | February 28, 2015
Director: David Cronenberg
Writer: Bruce Wagner
Starring: Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, Evan Bird, Olivia Williams, Robert Pattinson, Kiara Glasco, Sarah Gadon, Dawn Greenhalgh, Jonathan Watton, Jennifer Gibson, Gord Rand, Justin Kelly, Niamh Wilson, Clara Pasieka, Emilia McCarthy
Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore) has suffered the fate of most over-50 actresses in Hollywood, she has been discarded and all-but-forgotten. She sees a chance to portray her mother in an upcoming biopic as a unique opportunity to break back into the cinematic universe of Hollywood. Havana’s connections and bloodline seem to make her a sure thing; the consensus is that her audition was great, but something is making the director and/or casting director hesitate. Perpetually haunted by her dark familiar past — specifically the teasingly youthful spectre of her mother (Sarah Gadon) — Havana focuses her energies on confronting her emotions, which Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), like a rapist in psychotherapist’s clothing, gleefully helps her do via soulfully penetrating massage sessions. As one might expect, the over-fixation on the abuse and trauma of her childhood rapidly corrodes Havana’s mental state.
Meanwhile, Agatha Weiss (Mia Wasikowska) has returned to Hollywood to face the fiery past that exiled her to Florida for much of her childhood and has left her permanently — and quite literally — scarred. While Agatha was away, her mother (Olivia Williams), father (the aforementioned Dr. Weiss) and bratty younger brother Benjie (Evan Bird) have continued on with their privileged lives inside their Architectural Digest home. It is unclear whether the motivation for Agatha’s return is out of repentance or malice; or, perhaps it is to rekindle her incestuous desire for her brother. When interacting with her family, Agatha’s reappearance is treated more like a ghastly apparition than a human body; they attempt to shoo her away, but that only seems to infuriate her. Everyone insinuates that Agatha is psychotic, yet we are only exposed to a sweet and emotionally vulnerable young woman.
As the estranged daughter of Havana’s therapist, Agatha’s narrative arc grows increasingly co-mingled with Havana’s when she fatefully becomes Havana’s personal assistant. All the while, a screenwriting limousine driver (Robert Pattinson) finds ways to interject himself into both women’s lives. This is one of many ways in which director David Cronenberg and screenwriter Bruce Wagner showcase the incestuous nature of Hollywood — even those who are not related by blood are intrinsically intertwined in this intimately caged universe. As the characters repeatedly cross paths with each other, the emotional undercurrents inflame their delusional passions. The constant interconnectedness only seems to lead to pain, as the characters never achieve the love and acceptance that they so narcissistically desire.
This potent brew of discomforting black humor and sublimely exaggerated melodrama revels in an unnervingly frigid tone that is not all that dissimilar from Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis. Maps to the Stars is stiltedly hyper-real reflection on reality that accentuates the inherent falsities of the cinematic medium. A bit heavy-handed at times, Cronenberg’s film is a Freudian analysis of the perversity of Hollywood inbreeding and the self-perpetuating cycle that dehumanizes people and turns them into psychotic monsters. Just like these characters, Hollywood is self-obsessed and entranced with its glamorous history, always looking back rather than progressing into the future. A Canadian director with an unrivaled panache for creating unsettling films that are poised in sharp opposition to Hollywood, Cronenberg has certainly earned himself every right to make this judgment.