Title: Maps to the Stars
Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, Evan Bird, Olivia Williams and Robert Pattinson
The Hollywood and celebrity lifestyle is often presented as a desirable ambition for American society to strive for, as it offers fame and wealth to the most deserving and talented people who are determined to reach their goals. But the high-society lifestyle isn’t as glamorous and enticing as many people may believe-the select few who do obtain it have to contend with such issues as relentlessly struggling with the mistakes of their past, the fading opportunities once they reach a certain age and no longer fitting into the image the public wants or being embraced by the people who once unquestionably celebrated them. That harrowing emotional and professional downfall is intriguingly and equally self-indulgently presented in director David Cronenberg’s new satirical drama, ‘Maps to the Stars,’ which explores both the glory and condemnation of the seemingly worthy dream of fame and fortune.
‘Maps to the Stars’ follows the high achieving Weiss family, who are working to garner the ultimate Hollywood lifestyle, including money, fame and envy. The patriarch of the family, Stafford (John Cusack), is a famed self-help TV therapist and author, who has garnered an A-list celebrity clientele. Meanwhile, his wife, Cristina (Olivia Williams), is determined to revive the career of their disaffected child-star son, Benjie (Evan Bird). But it’s more of a struggle than she imagined, as his reputation with film producers and directors has been tainted, due to his recent stint in rehab.
Unbeknownst to the seemingly happy family, another relative has just arrived back in Hollywood, the mysterious and physically and emotionally scarred Agatha (Mia Wasikowska). The 18-year-old was just released from a psychiatric ward in Jupiter, Florida, where she was transferred to after committing a heinous crime several years earlier. Ready to start her life over, Agatha makes her way back to Los Angeles, where she soon begins a friendship with a limo driver, Jerome Fontana (Robert Pattinson), who’s determined to become a screenwriter and actor.
After settling back in California, Agatha becomes the personal assistant to actress Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore). While the performer appears to have a glamorous life, she’s actually being haunted by the ghost of her mother, Clarice Taggart (Sarah Gadon), who tragically died in a fire almost 40 years ago. Havana is determined to reprise one of her mother’s most famous roles in a proposed indie remake of one of her iconic films. However, Clarice’s ghost appears determined to derail her daughter’s professional progress. While the group has varying degrees of Hollywood success and aspirations, they have all been corrupted by association to the film industry, proving that living in the dark side of ambition and fame can be more harrowing and emotionally damaging than it is prestigious and endearing.
Much like Cronenberg’s previous collaboration with Pattinson, the 2012 thriller, ‘Cosmopolis,’ the director strived to make another emotionally suspenseful and visually compelling drama that unflinchingly examines people’s intense drive to capture achievement considered redeemable in the public eye. Much like the actor’s character, Eric Packer, in the duo’s last film together, Jerome and most of the other characters in ‘Maps to the Stars,’ notably the Weiss family, are self-involved and entitled narcissists who do little to engage any sympathy. While they have all strived to overcome harrowing experiences in their lives, from Jerome not being able to garner the attention he so longingly craves for his creative talent, to the Weiss family contending with Benjie’s drug addiction and privilege, many of the characters have little redeeming qualities that supplement their repugnant thoughts of self-entitlement.
While most of the characters in ‘Maps to the Stars’ are imperious and arrogant in their strives to obtain fame, fortune and success, there are more relatable and engaging characters in the drama who are struggling to recapture their endearing qualities. Moore, who was nominated for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical for her portrayal of Havana at this year’s Golden Globe Awards, and Wasikowska both powerfully emphasized that their respective characters are haunted by their painful memories. Havana and Agatha both wish to overcome their distressing past experiences with their families, which distressingly contend with death, depravity and resurrection.
Moore instinctively and effortlessly portrayed Havana as an actress struggling to accept the fact that younger performers are being offered the roles she still longs to play, most notably her mother’s famed character. The BAFTA Award-winning Moore naturally possessed her character’s determination to prove to Hollywood that she’s just as talented as Clarice. But her growing emotional distance from her mother’s memory, as well as her anger over feeling as though she didn’t do enough to protect her as a child, is keeping her suppressed in her parent’s professional shadow. Moore also alluringly captured and emphasized her character’s sole ambition of being valued for her worth as a celebrity and actress, and refused to accept her own mortality until audiences and the rest of Hollywood validate her talent and work.
While Havana was focused entirely too much on people’s perception of her work and personality, as she still struggled to contend with her mother’s devastating death, which she used as an excuse to justify her at-times immature behavior, Agatha was intriguingly presented to be even more subtly sinister. Although Havana’s faults and unsettling emotions were mainly presented in the beginning of ‘Maps to the Stars,’ Wasikowska had the daunting task of gradually revealing the complexities of the performer’s personal assistant. The young Screen Actors Guild Awards-nominated actress naturally highlighted Agatha’s seemingly innocent demeanor when she first arrived in Hollywood, which helped her get the job with Havana, who began to feel protective over her new employee.
As Agatha and Havana also begin to bond over the fact they both don’t have any family they’re close to, Wasikowska began to slowly unveil her character’s dangerous and menacing reason for traveling back to Los Angeles. While Agatha is struggling to find acceptance and connection with people after being rejected throughout her adolescence, as well as mimicking the seemingly positive outlook America’s celebrity-obsessed society has on life, she’s desperately trying to find her true identity and purpose.
Although the storyline initially looks appealing, engaging and thought-provoking, too many of the main characters in ‘Maps to the Stars,’ Cronenberg’s latest satirical exploration into American society and culture, are disappointingly reminiscent of his last caricature drama, ‘Cosmopolis.’ The director’s latest drama once again offers its egotistical protagonists too few redeeming qualities that supplement their repugnant thoughts of self-entitlement. However, Moore and Wasikowska both enticingly emphasized the entrancing motivating factor of their respective characters being haunted by their painful memories. As Havana and Agatha both wish to overcome their distressing past experiences with their families, they’re continuously driven and haunted by memories they can’t escape, and prove in the process that society’s high-aiming goals aren’t as alluring as they believed.
Written by: Karen Benardello