Hollywood is an incestuous world of awful people
I love this film more than I love my own mustache."
That's a pretty fantastic quote, considering A) it's from Waters, and B) how that's some high praise considering how much his mustache is a part of his persona. The thing is, this movie is not funny. I didn't laugh once. In fact, to me, it was tremendously upsetting. But I don't work in Hollywood, which is why Waters has a very different perspective than me. To him, watching the characters who make up the roster of David Cronenberg's Maps to the Stars, a film that shares a surprising sensibility with Water's gonzo taste, is likely a cathartic good time, as he gets to laugh at the awful people he's seen working in his industry for decades. To anyone not working in Tinseltown however, this is a tragedy, pure and simple.
Though the plot, from novelist Bruce Wagner, isn't exceedingly difficult to follow, there's a lot of detail to it that requires some familiarity with Variety to truly appreciate, as talk of the movie industry and the people working in it dominates much of the film. One by one, we are introduced to several denizens of Hollywood, starting with Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), a newcomer just arrived via bus, who has an agenda in mind, as she meets up with limo driver/actor/writer Jerome (Robert Pattinson, re-teaming with Cronenberg in a limo again after Cosmopolis). From the jump it's obvious there's something up with this girl, but what it is isn't exactly...obvious. But then, there's something up with everyone we meet in this movie, be it aging actress Havana (the wonderful Julianne Moore), enfant terrible star Benjie (Evan Bird, The Killing) or self-help guru Stafford (John Cusack.) This is Hollywood: everyone is damaged and everyone is hiding it.
As we watch them chase their hopes, dreams and fears, which often revolve around fame and power, but which are rooted in familial trauma, a bigger picture begins to emerge and though you will likely get ahead of the reveal, the impact will remain impactful. There are no heroes here, just slightly different levels of awfulness, and the bar just keeps getting higher and higher. So when one character celebrates the death of a child with a sports stadium chant, you wonder, what's next? Considering this is a Cronenberg film, you can probably guess it's gonna be worse (spoiler alert: it is.) The only thing that guarantees you won't just turn away from the wreckage is the quality of the performances, led by Moore's haunted Havana. She's always terrific, but the range she displays here is on par with her best performances. One scene, where she's simply listening to a voicemail message, sees her get more across without a word than most actors could with pages of dialogue. Similarly, Wasikowska's part is managed in a way that avoids falling over into oddball territory, while Cusack hits all the right notes as a conflicted advisor to his clients. Only Bird feels a bit one-note, but that feels like a result of the writing, rather than the performance.
Though Cronenberg and company do a fine job of unfolding the story, dropping bits of info to weave a bit of a mystery, when it all starts to come together, it starts to lose a bit of momentum, as things start to spin a bit out of control. What exactly a satisfying conclusion to the story at hand would have been is hard to say, but what happens is certainly not it. Perhaps it would be impossible to give these people a meaningful goodbye. After all, not everyone gets a happy ending, and these people certainly don't deserve one.
The audio is presented via a Dolby Digital 5.1 track. This isn't the most aggressive-sounding film, and as a result, there's a lot of quiet to be heard, with the surround speakers mainly perking up to offer some atmospheric sound in several scenes and to handle the score (where present.) The low-end is mostly non-existent, and the entire track feels a bit light (for instance, scenes set in a nightclub with music in it relegates the diegetic music to the far background, in the surrounds, where it's barely audible.)
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