Director: David Cronenberg
Prospero Pictures/Sentient Entertainment/SBS Productions
Cronenberg finally helms the movie that started life as a script, became a novel when the first plans to film it were shelved and then turned back into a script and is now – finally – a film. In a way it could have been made 20 years ago, and part of it – the pacing, the lacklustre finish – suggests that not a lot has moved on. But the current quest for success within Hollywood as simply status, not for any real work done, makes Maps To The Stars perfect for right now. This is the story of a child star and his TV-psychiatrist father, but it’s also the story of an aging (has-been) movie star and it’s also the story of an outcast daughter.
Their lives all mingle in a way that would have been more deftly handled by Paul Thomas Anderson but seems about right as Cronenberg goes part Lynch, part Bobcat Goldthwait in his heavy-heavy satire; pitch-black and yet also profoundly silly this is a brutal look at vacuous and nasty characters.
Julianne Moore gives yet another skilful performance as a character with so much baggage – self-inflicted, self-induced – that she’s totally unlikable. And yet, the depth within her performances in these sorts of roles (see also: What Maisie Knew – among a few others in fact) is that we feel the underlying vulnerability. The character is deeply flawed and unlikable yet we are aware of their nervous breakdown-like tenderness, the fragility so palpable. She’s wonderful here in her ghastliness.
In fact the cast – an ensemble featuring John Cusack, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson and Olivia Williams – is great, all are wonderful at playing despicable, unlovely types and tropes.
The problem with the film is that its final third goes too far – and when we reach the Greek Tragedy-like denouement we simply can’t care. We’ve been pushed too far – a great shame, because in its first 40 minutes Maps is close to exhilarating in how far it wants to shove ugliness at us, the spiritually bankrupt lives of overpaid losers are well captured, well realised. And then the convolutions and necessary coincidences spiral – and the mania and frenzy falls away into a safe, lazy oddness. The script unravels, leaving talented actors to trust a director’s vision. But it’s too late.