MAPS TO THE STARS (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 51 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Disturbing Violence and Sexual Content, Graphic Nudity, Language and some Drug Material

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Directed by: David Cronenberg

Written by: Bruce Wagner

Starring: Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, Robert Pattinson, Olivia Williams, Sarah Gadon & Evan Bird

David Cronenberg doesn’t make easy movies. That’s just a given. After humble beginnings with body horror (SHIVERS, THE BROOD, VIDEODROME), Cronenberg went through a cinematic transformation during the late 80’s. This filmmaker, who had mastered the art of making audiences uncomfortable, decided to focus on the more cerebral side of terror with the likes of DEAD RINGERS, CRASH, and SPIDER. When the new millennium hit, Cronenberg decided to further evolve with two crime dramas (A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, EASTERN PROMISES). Though I can’t attest to loving every one of his films (I find SCANNERS to be vastly overrated), I dig most of Cronenberg’s work to some degree. Since his last film (COSMOPOLIS) was absolutely abysmal, I worried that his filmography might be going off the rails with MAPS TO THE STARS. My fears have been put to rest….kind of. This film is very hit-or-miss with slightly more hits than misses.

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Agatha is a scarred woman visiting Los Angeles. In the city of dreams and celebrities, she hits it off with a limousine driver/budding actor and is hired as the personal assistant to actress Havana. Havana is a spoiled, washed-up brat who constantly does her best Joan Crawford impression by screaming at the top of her lungs and acting crazy. Her therapist is Dr. Stafford Weiss and happens to be father to spoiled child actor Benjie. Benjie is making waves as he loathes his younger co-star on the set of a new film, commits criminal acts, and pretty much acts like a slightly toned-down version of Justin Bieber. Did I mention that Havana and Benjie also see ghosts? Because that happens too. The plot is as coherent as the general set-up that I’ve just described. There’s not so much of a story here as there is a group of insane people in Hollywood.

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The acting is bland as cast members put no discernible emotion into their dialogue. A few of these characters are pretty interesting in spite of the lifeless performances. It should be said up front that not a single person is likable, but I was intrigued to see what would happen to each and every one of these characters. Julianne Moore screams and goes really over-the-top, but that works for the spoiled brat she’s playing. John Cusack and Olivia Williams are woefully underdeveloped as Benjie’s parents, but the character of Benjie is fascinating. Mia Wasikowska is wooden, as is Robert Pattinson (who isn’t given a lot of screen time). These cast members certainly aren’t helped by messy dialogue that gets downright silly in spots.

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If nothing else, MAPS TO THE STARS tackles interesting points about the darker side of Hollywood. While not-so-subtle ghosts of the past are used in a tacky way (literal ghosts), the culture of spoiled child actors is tackled with gusto. I sort of wish that Cronenberg had dedicated a whole feature to that section of this movie as it’s more than timely and relevant given the asinine stunts that Bieber, Cyrus, and Lohan have pulled in the past decade. Cronenberg seems to be taking on too much in the space of a single movie though, which is aided by a handful of pointless moments. There was really no reason to have Robert Pattinson in this movie aside from one scene near the end. An entire subplot of Julianne Moore’s character trying to get a role doesn’t have much to do with the grand scheme of the film either.

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MAPS TO THE STARS moves at a very deliberate pace. There are good scenes, most of which feature the Bieber doppelgänger. However, I couldn’t help but feel that parts of this film were half-assed. This is mainly seen in a shrug-worthy finale that showcases truly terrible CGI (I’ve seen better effects on the Syfy Channel) and a closing scene that seems included only for the sake of shock value. The biggest issue with the slow pacing is that it feels like MAPS is building up to a big pay-off and that never happens. It’s the equivalent of hearing a long joke that sounds really funny and is concluded with a lame humor-killing punchline.

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While I’ve probably made MAPS TO THE STARS sounds like a boring movie in most respects, there’s something interesting about the whole film that kept me hooked into it. I never once rolled my eyes at the bad acting or slow pace, but I found myself oddly compelled through just how strange this movie was. There are a lot of flaws, but MAPS certainly isn’t all out terrible or even bad. There are a lot of topics to be dissected within this film, but they aren’t necessarily executed as well as they should have been. This is not Cronenberg’s worst (that dishonor still firmly belongs to COSMOPOLIS), but it remains far from his best. MAPS TO THE STARS is an okay oddity that really didn’t disturb me, shock me or make me laugh (parts are clearly satirical), but remains gripping in its own weirdly indescribable way.

Grade: C+

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