David Cronenberg’s new film sees the interlocking and incestuous nature of Hollywood taken to a whole new level. The Weiss family have what might be seen as the typical Hollywood set up, with Cristina (Olivia Williams) managing the career of her child actor son Benjie, and her husband Stafford (John Cusack) working as psychotherapist to the stars. One of the stars he treats with his intense massage-come-therapy is Havanna Segrand (Julianne Moore), a Margo Channingesque character, unwilling to allow her career have its day and obsessed with playing her own mother, who she claims sexually abused her a child. This troubled relationship with her mother impinges on everyday life, not helped by her appointment of the Weiss family’s estranged daughter Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) who has just been released from a sanatorium, and has befriended driver and actor Jerome (Robert Pattinson) along the way. These sprawling lives in the dusty streets of Hollywood are in constant danger of colliding like tectonic plates, causing the foundations of acceptable behaviour to shake.
Julianne Moore’s portrayal of a damaged actor unhappy with her current career and susceptible to sudden and terrifying mood swings is jaw dropping. The intensity of the character coupled with her almost ferocious unhappiness leads to a cataclysmic explosion of character on the screen, and Moore absolutely embodies the vulgarness of Havanna. For an actor known for being so anti celebrity culture Moore seems to throw her heart and soul into this dark and twisted character.
Cronenberg’s direction is relentless and at times the film is actually hard to watch, such is his no holds barred approach. The film cleverly comments upon the way that Hollywood works without seeming hypocritical, and the actual incest within the film seems oddly commonplace in the world of botox and red carpets. The culture of therapy and special treatments exhibited in the film seems so spot on, and the balance of pretentiousness versus satire is a careful but exact one.
Throughout the whole of the film there is a very strong feeling of entrapment – trapped in the world of Hollywood, trapped in a family, trapped by a past. It’s stifling, and the hot air of Tinseltown makes the whole cinema feel like it too has been enveloped into that world. There are even moments of humour, mostly due to the absolute spot on nature of the satire in Bruce Wagner’s script – particularly so in a scene with a group of 13 year old actors describing anyone over the age of 23 ‘menopausal’.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the name of this film in particular. The interconnected nature of all of the characters is indeed reminiscent of a map of the night sky, where all of the tiny dots of light join up to make something bigger. This image in itself also links to the maps to the stars houses in Hollywood, with all of the celebrity names labelling different locations, these tiny dots of celebrity light joining together to make something bigger, in this case the concept of Hollywood itself, the very idea of fame and celebrity. This film manages to perfectly encapsulate these ideas.
A film about Hollywood seems like the perfect chance to mention the importance of film viewing experience. I saw Maps to the Stars in the Greenwich Picturehouse on a rainy Thursday afternoon. When you walk into the lobby you can instantly tell that this is a group of cinemas that really love film. With big posters everywhere, little bits of merchandise (including a job application to be Havanna’s chore-whore) dotted around and friendly staff who seem genuinely interested in their jobs, I enjoyed the film infinitely more. Going to the cinema should be an experience, not just a social event or time filler. As the lights go down, and the screen widens and focuses, the anticipation mounts. That moment, as the trailers end, and the BBFC notice comes up on screen is heavy with possibility, the possibility of the film you are about to watch. In the Greenwich Picturehouse, I got that feeling. That’s what cinema should be.