Sunday, March 01, 2015

Maps to the Stars

It was a cruel tease for the College Corner Theatre to run a "Cronenberg's Mad Science" series through February and end it with this. Sure, it seems like the odds of ever getting the same sort of crazy science fiction and body horror that is synonymous with David Cronenberg's name from him again are fairly low - we'll have to wait for his son Brandon's next film to see if he had truly picked up the torch - but this was just about as far in the other direction as you might fear: a sadly familiar portrait of Hollywood being shallow and full of madness.

It could be worse, I suppose; while I was pondering how underwhelmed I was feeling, I saw other folks lamenting on Twitter that they might never see another Cronenberg movie in theaters again. This may not be prime Cronenberg, but you'd think something with this director and this cast would be a cut above a simultaneous video-on-demand release, which means a bunch of theaters won't play it. Heck, I wonder what same-day releases do to Oscar eligibility.

Maps to the Stars

* * (out of four)
Seen 28 February 2015 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (first-run, DCP)

Hollywood stories can be self-indulgent or snide, depending on what sort of axes the people making them have to grind, rarely managing to hit the sweet spot in the middle. What they seldom are, though, is extraneous, but that's what happens with Maps to the Stars - there's one track that's a nifty little story with some potential. Whenever it gets into stuff that's specifically about the movie business, on the other hand, one can't help but be reminded that David Cronenberg used to make things far more original than this.

The movie-star track involves Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), a second-generation actress who has reached an age when staying relevant takes a lot of tenacity if you're even given a chance. She's currently focused on landing a role in a remake of one of her mother's movies, and that mother, Clarice Taggart (Sarah Gadon) is appearing to her as something between a haunting and a hallucination. Havana has regular sessions with pop psychiatrist Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), whose own son Benjie (Evan Bird) is an actor, with mother Christina (Olivia Williams) handling his career. Agatha Weiss (Mia Wasikowska), meanwhile, is just off the bus from an institution in Florida, and while she soon lands a job as Havana's assistant, it's Stafford, Benjie, and Christina who are most concerned about the young woman with the burns on her skin.

As soon as Stafford finds out that Agatha is in town, there's a tremendous tension to the Weiss side of the film, and while what writer Bruce Wagner has concocted is maybe not enough to fill a feature-length film as it is, it probably could be with a little more effort - it's got the makings of a Greek tragedy, and while many of the people involved are unstable in one way or another, their motivations still tend to be human and understandable. It's a fractious enough web of relationships on its own that the bits that involve Benjie being a self-centered brat of a child actor just seem little more than the latest time over some rather well-tread ground.

Full review on EFC

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