Maps to the Stars (2014) Review

The various waves and styles there are to the work of director David Cronenberg make it very easy to digest his work. From his early days as a shlock creator, to the maturity he found in the body horror of his prime work, and the eventual spiral into more contemporary oriented, paranoid dramas. With such a level of consistency, it’s no surprise that every fan of his has their preferred era for his work. Me personally, I love his body horror films, and as someone that isn’t particularly fond of horror, I’d say that’s the best praise I could ever get a director. Maps to the Stars is the most recent film from Cronenberg, and by the looks of it, probably his last film. A shame to go out on a rather dud note, but there’s still merits to be found throughout.

One meritable point in particular is its overall criticism of star power and the Hollywood agenda. Following various characters that inevitably intertwine, Cronenberg takes us on a trip round the ego fuelled minds of Hollywood’s greats, and the feverish fans who worship the ground they walk on. With such an impressive cast, it’s hard not to feel that this bold criticism is sloppily handled, as we brush shoulders with Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson, John Cusack, Olivia Williams and Carrie Fisher for much of the running time.

No struggle comes from the horrific levels these cast members go to, their performances residing on a level of making themselves as awful as possible. I had no trouble in hating the vast majority of them, but if that was the intention of Cronenberg, then surely he would’ve left a scapegoat for an audience to attach themselves to. Unfortunately, there is no such character, and we’re stuck around a bunch of maniacal, hyperactive jerks for much of the running time. It’s easy to brush it under the rug of “societal commentary”, but I don’t think that’s the aim here. The various subplots that happen around these characters, specifically with Moore’s performance as Havana Segrand make me think we’re meant to be connecting with these characters and criticising them at the same time.

Cronenberg’s direction doesn’t take us anywhere throughout this story either, a sad shame considering there’s more than a plentiful amount of evidence that showcases just how he can mould a narrative. The focus here is very much on characters that are completely irredeemable, and it makes for a rather boring watch. Moore’s performance is pretty solid on the whole which you’d expect from her really. Cusack makes a nice appearance from time to time; I wish he’d had much more to do but I appreciate just about any film that allows him to make an appearance. Aside from that though, nothing with the cast or the director really clicks.

It’s a real shame that I didn’t enjoy this one more, because Cronenberg goes straight for the jugular on what he thinks of Hollywood, but at the same time he forgets to craft a narrative worth following while doing so. Certainly worth the watch, even if it’s just to see how Cronenberg takes on the popularity of mainstream projects, but it’s nowhere close to the high points of his fantasy horror films. Compared to that, and it may as well be just a generic drama that lingers on the cusp of being the very subject it looks to mock.

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