David Cronenberg is best known for his films The Fly, A History of Violence, and the under-appreciated sci-fi flick eXistenZ. While he kicked butt in seeing those plotlines come to fruition, he took a risk in releasing Map to the Stars. I say this because I personally feel this is one of the worst films I’ve ever seen.
Being on a movies-about-movies kick, I thought I’d give this one a whirl. I mean, Mia Wasikowska and John Cusack are in it, how bad can it be?
Trust me, it’s pretty awful if you’re nitpicky.
“And by the power of a word”
Map to the Stars opens with 19-year-old Agatha Weiss (Wasikowska) on a bus on her way to Hollywood. She’s mysterious, creepy, and charming and with a wad of cash she buys a ride from Jerome Fontana (Robert Pattinson) to pray to Clarice Taggart via sidewalk star engraving.
This may be a plot hole, as Clarice was Havana Segrand’s (Julianne Moore) mother, so how does Weiss simply stumble upon the opportunity to work for Segrand?
With the power of networking, Weiss becomes Segrand’s personal assistant, then things hit the fan. From the beginning, we see that all the characters are clearly crazy, save for Pattinson’s role as the writer/actor limo driver.
Weiss is back from Florida, having been excommunicated by her parents for setting fire to their home at the age of nine and she’s here to “make amends”. Her parents are horrible creatures, without a sympathetic bone in their combine skeletal apparatus, until her mother breaks down near the end of the film after her father throws her on the floor and socks her a few times in the stomach.
“I started my life anew”
Olivia Williams plays Christina, Agatha’s mother, and she nails it. At once chainsmoking and shaking, slingling phrases about how she resented her daughter for being scizophrenic, her talent for hyperbole is awe-inducing. She can play the hostile caretaker of the Dollhouse, letting her British flag fly, yet somehow become utterly American and go out of her mind for this film. What a juxtaposition of roles you can play, Williams, and to that I say, “Bravo!”
“I was born to know you”
But let’s get back to the story, what’s left of it anyway.
Segrand sees visions of her dead mother at 19 and Benjie Weiss hallucinates about recently deceased children. You would think that Agatha is one of the most sane characters in the film, until she bashes in Segrand’s head wielding one of her awards as a billy club. The aging actress didn’t have to screw the girl’s love interest in his car, while it was parked in plain sight in the driveway, did she? Not that I condone such irrevocable acts of revenge, but Wasikowska’s chillingly good at playing parts that allow her to get her hands dirty.
Color me biased, but Wasikowa’s a gem, really. In some scenes she’s all pluck and vigor, bubbly and awkward, but she can play any personality. When things start to get gritty, she has the ability to be mean.
In the end, her recurring dream comes true as she and her brother clandestinely “get married”, then take a bunch of pills. There’s no resolution as to their inevitable death, but it’s safe to assume that was the plan, right?
“To name you”
Roger Ebert, I am not, but I have seen a lot of movies and this one might just take the cake. As the screenwriter for Map to the Stars, Bruce Wagner is probably the most to blame, but who cut the film anyway? There are scenes that might have just made a believer out of me, if they let the moment linger a second longer, and instead the thing was chopped up in such a way that emotional moments were cut off at their apex. And that’s just wrong.
John Cusack brings another faux pas to the film with his incompetent acting. In one vein, he might have been the perfect choice to play an unloving, hypocritical, Jung-obsessed therapist who has no heart when it comes to his children. I’m not even sure how his incestuous family became billionaires in Hollywood, because his son couldn’t have swept in enough money to get their house featured in Architectural Digest with his child star fame.
Seriously, Wagner, why did you have Cusack punch Wasikowska repeatedly in the gut and lead me to question my love for Say Anything?
And gee whiz, there are a lot of deaths in this movie. I don’t know if this was some sort of microcosmic metaphor for the lives some stars ruin on their road to fame, but why did you make that kid shoot a dog and strangle his co-star? Then his mother lights herself on fire, right on the rim of their home swimming pool, inches away from safety? However, it is slightly gratifying–in a sick, perverted sense–to see the look on Wasikowska’s innocent face when she proceeds to murder someone in a movie, but I think Havana’s subsequent spasming and choking really freaked me out.
So, maybe that’s why I didn’t like Map to the Stars; I don’t think I have the stomach for it (coming from a girl who frequented rotten.com in her adolescence). This film is filled with so much unnecessary violence, so many pills, and the story is just garbage to be frank. Or maybe I’m not as smart as I think I am and I didn’t “get it”, but I honestly don’t know how I sat through the whole thing.