Movie Review — “Maps to the Stars” (2014) directed by David Cronenberg

Don’t ask me why, but one day I decided to look for David Cronenberg movies I hadn’t seen before. Oh yes, that’s right, it was after seeing, “Crimes of the Future.” It’s been in the queue for awhile, and last night I finally had a chance to watch it. Let’s start out with the genres they have it tagged with at imdb: drama and comedy. When I saw the comedy tag I was intrigued as it would have been the first even remotely comedic film that I’ve ever known Cronenberg to direct. My intrigue was satisfied. It’s a drama alright, but in no way, shape, or form can this movie be considered a comedy in my assessment. It’s a ghost story that has intermittent explosive violence. It’s also a searing indictment of the Hollywood star-making machine.

Since I first put it in the queue I knew nothing about it other than who the director was. When I saw the brilliant cast list, I knew I was on to something special. Cast: Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, Evan Bird, Olivia Williams, Robert Pattinson, Kiara Glasco, Sarah Gadon, Dawn Greenhalgh, and many others. Even Carrie Fisher has a cameo in it! Like with Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Steven Spielburg, James Cameron, and other famous directors, I imagine stars are ecstatic to be chosen for roles in Cronenberg films.

Without giving away too much of the plot – you know how I hate spoilers! — the story revolves around a very well-to-do Hollywood family: the father, Dr. Stafford Weiss (played by Cusack,) the mother, Christina (played by Williams,) and the son, Benjie (played by Bird.) The dad is a self-help guru that also does body work for trauma on very wealthy clients. The mother is the attractive, impeccably dressed obedient wife, helicopter parent, and shrewd contract negotiator for her son. Benjie is a 13-year-old child star who has been in movies since he was 7. The movie series that he is the star of has earned hundreds of millions of dollars. Benjie is also fresh out of rehab and goes to therapy often. Now that Benjie is in recovery, his therapist thinks he might be strong enough to talk about his long-absent older sister. Benjie quickly nips that in the bud.

A parallel story line has Havana Segrand (played by Moore) at its head. Savana is a big star who is over 50 now. She is also the daughter of a former big star who died mysteriously in a fire. Someone has written a script about the life of her mother and every fiber in Havana’s being wants to play her mother in the movie. That despite being convinced that her mother sexually abused her as a child and she is intensive trauma therapy with … you guessed it, Dr. Stafford Weiss.

The movie opens with a young woman named Agatha (played by Wasikowska) walking off a plane or off a bus (can’t remember which) and looking for a stretch limo she’s hired to take her on a tour of the homes of the stars. The limo driver, Jerome (played by Pattinson) is also an aspiring screenplay writer and actor. They play the name game back and forth while Jerome takes her to a lot that is mostly vacant except for the concrete foundation of a house that once stood there.

That’s as far as I am going with the plot details. I will say the tension ratchets up very very slowly, and by the end I was quivering to know how it was going to end. Notable are that each character is either flaky, insane, mean-spirited, or dangerous, and some of them are all of those attributes. There is a hard edge to EVERYONE. I think every person in this movie sees ghosts, and they are not the warm fuzzy kind. There are a few shocker scenes that will disturb, so be prepared. The subject matter, especially around incest, could trigger victims of incest, so beware.

Just a few more words about Phillips and Cusack. I’ve seen quite a few movies starring both of these actors. Both are hit or miss but it isn’t because of their acting abilities that I like some of their films and not others. They are both superior actors sometimes found in less-than-stellar films. Both of them are allowed to show their stuff in, Maps of the Stars, especially Phillips. I loved her in this! And my faith in Cusack was restored after watching him here. I also liked Pattinson as Jerome. Not used to seeing him as the faltering wannabe but he does well with the part.

Let me repeat: this is not a comedy. Besides the mean people, the ghosts, and the violence, it’s a movie I’ve been thinking about ever since watching it. The viciousness of Hollywood is front and center.

Bits of trivia from imdb:

In an almost 50-year career, this was the very first time that David Cronenberg ever filmed anything in the United States (his previous movies were mostly shot in Canada or the UK). The film shot for 5 days in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills and 24 days in Cronenberg’s native Toronto.

Feeling the movie had very little commercial appeal, the Canadian and American distributors only gave it a very limited release, making it a box office bomb.

Maps for the Stars was presented at The Maryland Film Festival as the annual John Waters’ Selection for presentation. Every year since the first Maryland Film Festival in 1999, Baltimore’s iconic cultural asset, the legendary artist and filmmaker John Waters, selects a film that he adores and feels hasn’t yet received the attention or accolades it deserves to share with Baltimore’s film enthusiasts.


6 Comments Add yours

  1. randydafoe says:

    Don’t know this movie, some impressive names in there. It sounds sufficiently twisted enough to be a Cronenberg film!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. msjadeli says:

      He knows how to do a proper twister, and I love how he delves the dark places to do it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Badfinger (Max) says:

    Wow…what a plot! This might be worth viewing with Bailey…it seems different


    1. msjadeli says:

      It starts out pretty straightforward, but little things start happening that build on other little things and a picture begins to emerge. Cronenberg is a master at his craft. A good one for Bailey to study.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Badfinger (Max) says:

        Will do Lisa…I’ll ask him in a few…I’m at home today

        Liked by 1 person

        1. msjadeli says:

          Nice that you are home. Hope you got a little time to relax.

          Liked by 1 person

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