Outlandish, unbelievable and just slightly disgusting, David Cronenberg’s violent Hollywood satire, “Maps to the Stars,” is also entertaining. Interconnected movies stars and their acolytes, each repellent in their own ways, go about their filthy business in Los Angeles, and their crazy stories join up in a ludicrous yet satisfying manner.
A detestable teenage movie star, famous for his role in a huge franchise called “Bad Babysitter,” visits a girl in the hospital. He offers to make a movie in which he stars as the sick girl, then berates his adult handlers, and we find out that he has been in rehab at the not very tender age of 13. He soon finds himself visited by the ghost of the little girl. His trembling mother hovers close as his manager, and his father (John Cusack) is a New Age self-help guru with infomercials and bestselling books. The family is a profitable brand with lots of secrets and a very big house.
Meanwhile, Julianne Moore plays egotistical, whiny actress Havana Segrand. She’s an insecure, pill-popping, would-be has-been whose claim to fame consists largely of being the daughter of a vastly more famous actress. Her mother died in a fire after appearing in a classic film, the lines of which figure prominently throughout the film. Havana has made a name for herself recently by revealing childhood sexual abuse by her mother, and is desperate to star as her own mother in a remake of the classic film.
She hires a weird and mysterious young woman (Mia Wasikowska) to be her assistant, a starstruck Florida transplant with burn scars over much of her body. As a burn victim, this young girl idolizes Havana’s famous mother, obsessively reciting lines from the classic film. Both Havana and her assistant are visited by ghosts, too. Havana is taunted by the ghost of her mother.
If David Lynch’s 2001 Hollywood freakout “Mulholland Drive” always struck you as too understated, believable and lacking in nudity, you’re in for a treat with “Maps to the Stars.” Cronenberg’s cast of terrible people makes the none-too-subtle point that some people will do anything to be successful in Hollywood, and the equally unsubtle point that they will be haunted forever by their actions. Yet somehow the elements work, and the intentionally over-the-top performances fit into a recognizable yet outsize version of the world.
The despicable deeds and dark doings of these “people” unite under their own logic in Cronenberg’s world, and it makes for a weirdly fun movie. Robert Pattinson plays the least-horrible person in the film, a limo driver who observes, and occasionally participates in, the depravity of his famous clients. The screenplay was written by Bruce Wagner when he himself was an actor/chauffeur.
If you take the characters seriously, some of their fates might be upsetting, but the film doesn’t really function on an emotional level. Rather, the script has just enough humor to elicit cringes, eyebrow raises and laughter in proper proportion, and while the events are plenty shocking, you might also be surprised at how much you enjoy watching them unfold.