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MAPS TO THE STARS Hollywood Babylon

Maps-to-the-Stars

Directed by David Cronenberg

Starring Mia Wasikowska, Julianne Moore, Robert Pattinson, John Cusack, Evan Bird, Olivia Williams

 

While he’s still best known for his body horror masterpieces, Canadian director David Cronenberg has always been more interested in psychological maladies than physical ones. His recent works have abandoned using the body as a metaphorical stand in for the mind and have been all the more interesting for it, a trend that continues with Maps To The Stars.

Coming across as a darker twist on Robert Altman’s The Player, Maps To The Stars examines, with a cynicism that sometimes borders on the misanthropic, the lives of a group of seemingly unconnected people who are on the verge of being used up by the film industry. Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), a young woman with burn scars, travels to Los Angeles by bus, quickly forming a relationship with Jerome (Robert Pattinson), a struggling actor and screenwriter who works as a limousine driver. Agatha lands a job as a personal assistant to Havana, an ageing former child star who is struggling with memories of abuse at the hands of her mother, a legendary starlet. Meanwhile, a young Bieber-esque actor, Benjie (Evan Bird) is trying to stage a comeback after going through rehab and must struggle not only with his ambitious and distant parents (John Cusack and Olivia Williams) but the notion that, only in his late teens, he may already be washed up.

That’s actually the key theme of the film. Each character is grappling in their own way with missed opportunities and past primes, desperate to get their hands on what they once had or think they want. With wry, blacker than black humour, Cronenberg and screenwriter Bruce Wagner examine a culture enslaved to ambition, demonstrating an inherent understanding that every peak of success is built on a mountain of failures. The characters portrayed herein are part of the mountain, whether they know it or not.

The cast give it their all, with Julianne Moore standing out as the vain and delusional Havana, still living in the shadow of her years-dead mother to such an extent that she thinks appearing in a remake of one of her films will give her… release? Salvation? Absolution? Peace? No one here can put a name to their need; they only know they’re hungry.

Film fans and gossip followers will catch plenty of in jokes and arch quips, but the story is rooted in real emotional pain, which makes it come across as powerful rather than snide. It’d be easy to chide the film for essentially – and inarguably – being about the problems of rich white people, but Maps To The Stars manages to bring out the humanity in its cast of emotional grotesques, even as it ruthlessly lampoons them for their short-sightedness.

 

TRAVIS JOHNSON

 

Maps To The Stars screens at Somerville from Monday, December 8, until Saturday, December 14, and Joondalup Pines from Tuesday, December 16, until Sunday, December 21, as part of Lotterywest Festival films. Go to perthfestival.com.au for more information.

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