Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Maps to the Stars

Directed by David Cronenberg and written by Bruce Wagner that is based on his own book Dead Stars, Maps to the Stars is a story set in Hollywood revolving around an aging actress dealing with her career as well as the presence of her late mother while a therapist tries to get his young son to return to the world of celebrity culture. A film that explores the world of celebrity and its emphasis on Western culture, it’s a film that is satirical as well as having commentary on a world lost in fame. Starring Julianne Moore, John Cusack, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson, Olivia Williams, Evan Bird, and Sarah Gadon. Maps to the Stars is a visceral and ominous film from David Cronenberg.

The film is an exploration into the world of fame and celebrity culture through a multi-layered narrative involving a young child star trying to return to the world of celebrity culture while an aging actress copes with painful memories as she is haunted by the presence of her late mother. It’s a film that plays into people trying to be part of a culture where there’s a lot of expectations and demands in order to succeed. At the middle of this is a young woman named Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) who arrives from Florida as she would work for the aging actress Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore) as an assistant. Segrand is coping with demons as she seeks the help of self-help therapist Dr. Strafford Weiss (John Cusack) whose son Benjie (Evan Bird) is a teen child-star that is trying to remain sober while dealing with the pressures of stardom as he endure strange hallucinations.

Bruce Wagner’s screenplay definitely plays into not just people’s desire to wanting to make it in Hollywood but also how far they will go to the point that they lose elements of their sanity as well as their own identity. While Agatha is just an outsider who would befriend a limo driver named Jerome (Robert Pattinson) who is trying to make as an actor and a writer. She is someone that manages to have some connections to be part of that world yet is more of an observer who has an element of innocence but with a dark edge as she wears gloves and lots of clothes as she is a burn victim with a past of her own. By working for Havana Segrand, she gets access to the world of productions and places but is also aware that there is a lot more going on. Especially as Havana is a woman living in the shadows of her late mother Clarice (Sarah Gadon) who was a famous star until she died of a car crash when Havana was a child.

In the hopes to star in a remake of a film that her mother did years ago, Havana is hoping for a comeback but Clarice’s presence haunts her. By going to Dr. Weiss, she tries to exercise her demons as well as get a role in order to fulfill her own ego. The Dr. Weiss character is also a representation of egotism as he is a man that is making money through is own self-help books as well as exploit his own son while his wife Cristina (Olivia Williams) is Benjie’s manager as she does whatever to get him a part in a sequel for a film that made him a star. Benjie however, is struggling with trying to stay sober as well as be out of the public eye as he is succumbing to peer pressure as well as the need to be this teen sensation as he starts to see strange hallucinations involving the dead. It’s a film that features a lot of characters who are despicable while the Jerome character is the most normal as he is also an outsider who is just trying to get his break no matter how humiliating things are. Though there’s aspects of Jerome that makes him unsympathetic, it’s only because he has to do things in order to be part of this very turbulent and troublesome world.

David Cronenberg’s direction is very mesmerizing for the way he depicts the world of Hollywood as this place of conformity and expectations that seem unreal. While a lot of it is shot in Los Angeles and Hollywood with a few interior scenes set in Toronto, it does play into a film that has a very warped view of what Hollywood is as many of the characters, with the exception of Agatha and Jerome, live in these spacious mansions and are invited to the biggest parties around. While there’s some wide shots in the direction, much of Cronenberg’s approach to the compositions are simple in terms of close-ups and medium shots. Especially in scenes involving Agatha where her close-ups play to how she looked with her burned scars around parts of her head to play into a sense of realism that she has while everyone in Hollywood is trying to look young or be part of that culture.

The direction is also full of dark humor that plays into aspects of satire such as the commercials that Dr. Weiss has as well as his approach to therapy which is quite odd. Even as it’s clear that he’s just a man that will do anything to be famous and use his son’s stardom to become famous. Once there’s some revelations about his own past as well as his family starts to emerge, it adds to the sense of drama that emerges as well as to the issues that Havana is going through. Havana’s story has elements of surrealism as it relates to the presence of her own mother which is similar to the hallucinations that Benjie would go through. All of which play into demons that they face with Agatha being caught in the middle as this observer as she is connected to these people in some ways while keeping herself at a distance. Overall, Cronenberg creates a very captivating yet harrowing film about celebrity culture and people dealing with their demons in that world.

Cinematographer Peter Suschitzky does brilliant work with the film‘s cinematography to play into the sunny look of the locations in Hollywood along with some straightforward lighting for some scenes at night including some of the interior shots. Editor Ronald Sanders does excellent work with the editing as it‘s straightforward while using some unique rhythmic cuts to play into some of the surreal moments of the film. Production designer Carol Spier, with set decorators Sandy Lindstedt and Peter P. Nicolakakos and art directors Edward Bonutto and Elinor Rose Galbraith, does fantastic work with the look of the homes of the Weiss family as well as Havana to play into their personalities as well as the offices to showcase that world of celebrity culture.

Costume designer Denise Cronenberg does terrific work with the costumes from the long leather gloves that Agatha wears to the different array of clothes that the other characters wear as it‘s very posh in its look. Visual effects supervisor Jon Campfens does nice work some of the film‘s minimal visual effects which includes a chilling scene late in the film that plays to the drama. Sound editor Michael O’Farrell does superb work with the sound to play into the atmosphere of the party scenes as well as the smaller moments such as the screams that Havana would endure in her moments where she‘s tested. The film’s music by Howard Shore is amazing for its mixture of somber orchestral music with a mixture of eerie electronic pieces that play into the sense of dread and dark drama that looms over the film.

The casting by Deirdre Bowen is phenomenal as it features some notable small roles from Carrie Fisher as herself, Jayne Heitmeyer as a rival actress of Havana, Domenic Ricci as that woman’s son, Kiara Glasco as a young girl Benjie visits at the hospital as she would haunt him later on, Gord Rand as a director that Havana hopes to work with, Sean Robertson as a young co-star of Benjie whom is seen as a threat, and Dawn Greenhalgh as Havana’s agent who tries to get Havana the role that she is coveting. Sarah Gadon is terrific as the ghost of Havana’s mother Clarice who is a manifestation of the bad memories that Havana has. Olivia Williams is superb as Benjie’s mother Cristina who also manages her son’s career as she tries to make sure he stays sober while dealing with some demons of her own. Robert Pattinson is excellent as Jerome as a limo driver that Agatha befriends as he tries to make it as an actor/writer as he tries to find ways to make it where he does things that he knows he isn’t proud of.

Evan Bird is brilliant as Benjie as this teen sensation trying to cope with fame and the need to be sober as he also deals with strange hallucinations that play into his fascination with death. John Cusack is amazing as Benjie’s father in Dr. Strafford Weiss as this self-help therapist who is trying to become famous while doing whatever to make sure his son stays famous as he’s a really despicable character. Mia Wasikowska is remarkable as Agatha as this young woman with burned skin who arrives to Los Angeles with some mysterious motives as she finds herself fascinated by celebrity culture as she works for Havana while dealing with things about herself as it’s a performance that is quite engaging but also very dark. Finally, there’s Julianne Moore in an incredible performance as Havana Segrand as this aging actress that is desperate to make a comeback while coping with issues as there’s a sense of vanity and smugness in Moore’s performance that is mixed with high-levels of insecurities as it’s Moore in one of her best performances to date.

Maps to the Stars is a rapturous yet exhilarating film from David Cronenberg. Armed with a great cast led by Julianne Moore and Mia Wasikowska as well as very unique insight into the world of celebrity, its culture, and all of the trappings of fame. Especially as it’s a film with some revelations about people and twists and turns that showcase how much people are willing to sacrifice to be adored only to fall apart by their own undoing. In the end, Maps to the Stars is a riveting and tremendously haunting film from David Cronenberg.

David Cronenberg Films: Stereo - Crimes of the Future - Shivers - Rabid - Fast Company - The Brood - Scanners - Videodrome - The Dead Zone - The Fly (1986 film) - Dead Ringers - Naked Lunch - M. Butterfly - Crash - eXistenZ - Spider - A History of Violence - Eastern Promises - A Dangerous Method - Cosmopolis - Crimes of the Future (2022 film)

The Auteur #26: David Cronenberg: Pt. 1 - Pt. 2

© thevoid99 2014


Alex Withrow said...

Great review. I love that we both really enjoyed this one. I can understand why people detest it (as I did with Cosmopolis), but I thought this was a headtrip balls out nightmare of a film.

thevoid99 said...

I agree. It feels very true about the way the film industry is as well as celebrity culture in terms of expectations and all sorts of shit. I know people want to have Julianne Moore to get nominated for Best Actress but it should be for this film.