×

Cannes Film Review: ‘Maps to the Stars’

David Cronenberg paints Hollywood as a black hole in this toxic showbiz satire.

With:
Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, Olivia Williams, Evan Bird, Sarah Gadon, Niamh Wilson, Dawn Greenhalgh, John Cusack, Robert Pattinson. (English dialogue)

At a certain point in their careers, nearly all aspiring actors in Hollywood are “waiters”: They wait tables, they wait for callbacks, they wait for that moment when they become famous enough that America knows them on a first-name basis, a la Arnold or Miley. Onetime wannabe Bruce Wagner did his time in that waiting zone, writing the script for “Maps to the Stars” while working as a limousine driver for the Beverly Hills Hotel. By the time his cynical satire finally made it to the big screen nearly two decades later — in the hands of never-boring director David Cronenberg, no less — its time had passed, the intended toxicity diluted by the fact nearly everyone involved was now “in.”

Somehow, it’s more interesting to watch dreamers struggling to play stars (check out Pia Zadora in “The Lonely Lady” for a real Tinseltown takedown) than it is for Oscar nominees to parody the desperate, which is pretty much what Julianne Moore is doing in a fearless performance far more gonzo than the out-of-touch satire that contains it. Like Cronenberg’s “Cosmopolis” before it, the film opens in France the day of its Cannes Film Festival premiere and will likely fare better there than in the States, where eOne is also releasing.

Surprisingly, the Canadian helmer has waited until this project to shoot in Los Angeles (or the U.S. at all, for that matter), and though the film benefits from such iconic sights as the Walk of Fame, the Hollywood sign and palm trees aplenty, it doesn’t quite capture the feel of the city. Wagner’s insiders talk B.O. grosses and backend points, name-drop celebrities and do their best acting when pretending to like the idiot on the other end of any conversation, but they do so in slow-motion. There’s too much air in the room. After whiplash satires such as “In the Loop” and “Extras,” where half the jokes blaze by on first viewing, “Maps to the Stars” fails to reflect the pace at which the town operates.

Unlike Wagner’s sprawlingly ambitious “Wild Palms” (a 1993 miniseries that found his sensibility better paired with that of director Oliver Stone), “Maps” struggles to mix its various genres: Part showbiz sendup, part ghost story, part dysfunctional-family drama, the movie instead comes across as so much jaded mumbo-jumbo. In addition to its various pseudo-astrological connotations, the pic’s play-on-words title promises tantalizing access to the rich-and-famous playpens charted on Hollywood star maps. But the two ultra-modern homes where most of the action takes place feel as cold and far removed as a Toronto soundstage.

If Hollywood can claim — as MGM’s publicity department once boasted — “more stars than there are in heaven,” then the tight cluster depicted here form a relatively minor constellation. Havana Segrand (Moore) descends from Hollywood royalty, the scion of classic actress Clarice Taggart, who died in a fire, yet who still turns up now and then in ghostly form (Sarah Gadon) to derail Havana’s progress. Lately, the anxious C-lister has been fixated on landing the lead role in an indie remake of her mom’s best-loved picture.

But Havana isn’t the only one reciting that film’s famous monologue. Teenage burn victim Agatha Weiss (Mia Wasikowska) has just returned to L.A. from Jupiter, Fla., and she just might be a reincarnated version of Taggart— or, as it turns out, the schizophrenic product of an extremely incestuous showbiz family. Agatha’s younger brother, Benjie (Evan Bird), is enjoying his position as Hollywood’s most sought-after 13-year-old, managed by his taskmaster stage mother (Olivia Williams) and doted on by his self-help guru dad, Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), though it can’t be long before Benjie’s walking the red carpet with a paper bag over his head.

The connections between all these characters are relatively clear from the outset, which spares us the satisfaction of waiting to discover how they fit together. Of the main characters, only limo driver Jerome Fontana (Robert Pattinson, at the wheel rather than in the backseat after “Cosmopolis”) feels like an outsider, though it might have been wise to filter this unwieldy satire through his eyes — or those of someone not yet corrupted by association with the industry.

As it is, “Maps” spreads itself too thin, lavishing the majority of its attention on Moore’s high-risk performance. The actress seems game to push the limits, partnering with a director who never plays it safe, and yet Wagner’s script is content to go after easy targets: child actors, Scientology, revolving-door rehab programs, New Age-y pseudo-spiritualism. With all due respect to the fine work they do, acting is a line of work that tends to attract broken people: those who thrive under false identities, forever seeking public reinforcement.

In Havana, we see those insecurities writ large. But even at her most daring, Moore seems to be on a different wavelength from her director. She delivers her best scene on the toilet, for crying out loud, but Cronenberg plays it cool and detached, as always. He and d.p. Peter Suschitzky frame every scene in virtually the same way: elegantly disengaged from the lunacy.

“Maps” is the most overtly comedic screenplay Cronenberg has ever directed, but he hasn’t tailored his lensing or editing style to fit. The laughs come anyway, although some of Wagner’s funniest moments are left to languish, including an astoundingly inappropriate scene in which Havana celebrates the tragedy that forces a rival actress to resign from the role she’d coveted. If anything, Cronenberg has introduced a level of uncertainty as to whether it’s even appropriate to laugh when, say, Dr. Weiss starts punching his daughter in the stomach or Benjie strangles his young Ron Howard-like co-star — and the mayhem only escalates from there.

It’s not as if Cronenberg is pulling any of his punches. He just doesn’t manage to land very many of them, despite such provocations as a three-way sex scene and a badly rendered poolside barbecue. The film even has the nerve to call out real celebrities on their shortcomings, though Carrie Fisher is the only one to make a cameo.

It all feels too old — or “menopausal,” as the hip kids put it in the film. Moore is incredible, but her character’s frustrations would be more effective coming from a younger star, while the always-wooden Wasikowska ought to stop playing 18-year-olds already. But casting isn’t nearly as big a problem as the feeling that most of Wagner’s criticisms were hatched in the early ’90s, in a pre-smartphone era, before the Internet got nasty and back when the line “Harvey’s Harvey” would have packed a lot more punch.

Popular on Variety

Cannes Film Review: 'Maps to the Stars'

Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (competing), May 18, 2014. Running time: 112 MIN.

Production: (Canada-Germany) An eOne Films release of an Entertainment One presentation in association with Prospero Pictures and SBS Prods. of a Starmaps Prods./SBS Prods./Integral Film production, produced with the participation of Telefilm Canada, Ontario Media Development Corp./the Harold Greenberg Fund, in co-production with Axone Invenst, with the participation of Canal Plus/OCS. (International sales: Entertainment One, Toronto.) Produced by Michel Merkt, Martin Katz, Said Ben Said. Co-producers, Alfred Hurmer, Walter Gasparovic.

Crew: Directed by David Cronenberg. Screenplay, Bruce Wagner. Camera (color), Peter Suschitzky; editor, Ronald Sanders; music, Howard Shore; production designer, Carol Spier; art director, Elinor Galbraith; set designer, Itsuko Kurono; set decorator, Peter Nicolakakos; costume designer, Denise Cronenberg; sound (Dolby Digital), Nicolas Cantin; supervising sound editors, Michael O'Farrell, Wayne Griffin; re-recording mixers, Orest Sushko, Christian Cooke; visual effects supervisor, Jon Campfens; visual effects producer, Pete Denomme; visual effects, Switch VFX; stunt coordinator, Jamie Jones; assistant director, Walter Gasparovic.

With: Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, Olivia Williams, Evan Bird, Sarah Gadon, Niamh Wilson, Dawn Greenhalgh, John Cusack, Robert Pattinson. (English dialogue)

More Film

  • Fernando Meirelles The Two Popes

    How Italy Entices Big-Budget Film and TV Projects to Shoot on the Peninsula

    This summer there is lots of action on the Italian peninsula. “No Time to Die, ” the latest James Bond film, is shooting amid cave dwellings in the ancient southern town of Matera, while Christopher Nolan’s latest, “Tenet,” is encamped in Ravello, a jewel overlooking the Amalfi coast. Terrence Malick is in Anzio, a central [...]

  • Thom Zimny, Bruce Springsteen and Martin

    Bruce Springsteen's Director, Thom Zimny, on the Move from 'Broadway' to 'Western Stars'

    Director Thom Zimny is due for a big September: Come Sept. 22, he’ll find out whether he’s winning an Emmy Award for directing “Springsteen on Broadway” for Netflix. Ten days before that, he’ll be at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival to premiere a theatrical feature, “Western Stars,” which he co-directed with his muse and subject, [...]

  • Angel Has Fallen

    Box Office: 'Angel Has Fallen' Flies to $1.5 Million on Thursday Night

    Action movie “Angel Has Fallen” has soared to $1.5 million at 2,600 North American locations in Thursday night previews. Christian drama “Overcomer” took in $775,000 during Thursday night previews at 1,563 locations. “Angel Has Fallen” has been tracking for a debut in the $12 million to $16 million range and will expand to 3,286 sites on [...]

  • Our Mothers Review

    Oscars: Belgium Sends Cannes Prizewinner 'Our Mothers' to International Feature Film Race

    Belgian-Guatemalan director Cesar Diaz’s feature debut, “Our Mothers,” will represent Belgium in the International Feature Film category at the Oscars. Represented in international markets by Pyramide, “Our Mothers” world premiered at Cannes’ Critics Week and won the Golden Camera for best first film. “Our Mothers” is set in today’s Guatemala, a country riveted by the [...]

  • La vaca "The Cow"

    Alfredo Castro, Mia Maestro, Leonor Varela Cast in Francisca Alegria’s Debut (EXCLUSIVE)

    SANTIAGO, Chile  —  The much anticipated feature debut of Chilean Francisca Alegria, renowned for her magical short “And the Whole Sky Fit in the Dead Cow’s Eye,” has firmed up its cast and shooting dates. Argentine thesp Mia Maestro (“The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn”), Chile’s Leonor Varela (“Dallas,” “Blade 2”), Alfredo Castro (“From Afar,” “Museum”) [...]

  • 210819 Distribusjonsseminar DNF

    Haugesund: Nordic Distribution Panel Analyzes Recent Success Story 'Queen of Hearts'

    HAUGESUND, Norway  —  On Wednesday morning, shortly before this year’s New Nordic Films Works in Progress screening was due to begin, a handful of industry veterans sat for a panel that picked up right where last year’s WIP program left off. Presented in collaboration with Europa Distribution, the panel – called “The Value Chain: A [...]

  • L-R Dena Kaplan, Ronny Chieng, Josh

    Rafe Spall Leads Cast of Oscar Nominated Josh Lawson's 'Long Story Short'

    Rafe Spall, whose credits include “The Big Short” and “Shaun of the Dead,” leads the cast of romantic comedy “Long Story Short.” Studiocanal will handle worldwide sales on the film, which starts to shoot on Monday in Sydney, Australia. The movie is written and directed by Josh Lawson, who was Oscar nominated last year for [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content