Maps to the Stars – David Cronenberg (2014)

Maps to the Stars is really a film with one story, about a dysfunctional family that has little to do with celebrity except in the most superficial way, that tries to pass itself off as a portrait of Hollywood and its denizens. At least, that’s how it feels, although on reflection, the only other storylines going have to do with Julianne Moore as a less than relevant actress trying to revive her career, and Robert Pattinson (now Cronenberg’s go-to blank face) as a limo driver with aspirations, and both of those threads weave into the main plot fairly tightly. (At least Mr. Pattinson has moved from the back seat to the front – perhaps next time he’ll be allowed to exit the vehicle). No, this is not The Player, even if the trailer gives the sense of that type of insider satire coupled with some possible body horror elements. Really, it has some satirical elements, which will quickly date as the names drop away into the tidal basin of history, but in fact the film wants to be a mythopoeic saga of family discord, with enough incest zest to connect it, constellation-like, to the ancients and their worldview. Yes, this is Cronenberg, so while the Freudian elements should be running freely like sap from some cosmic tree (or, if that’s too much to ask from him lately, at least stacking up like the Collected Works), we are instead in the mental realms that generated Spider and Eastern Promises; that is, the realm of scripts unwritten by Mr. Cronenberg. I’m not sure why Cronenberg has bowed-out of the writerly side of things, but his late period works (everything since Crash) have pretty much given up the ghost. Some of his late films are good, many are not – Spider in particular was boring and mannered – but I do enjoy his style, as it has shifted from the scruffy-yet-controlled early genre days to a super-controlled crispness that I do find refreshing (like snow down your sock – a snowball to the face is asking overmuch). Anyway, what about the movie? Okay, yes, it is not boring, and has decent to good performances from actors working with characters that are just-compelling-enough, but everything is half-baked and underdeveloped. The family dynamics and psychological aspects are never given full force and are overly broad, and the satire, while humorous in parts, is likewise too specific. It is better than the aforementioned later films, and one gets the feeling that without Cronenberg at the helm, this would have been much worse, veering quickly into quirk and/or tedium. What spoke to him in the script is hard to guess. This film contains the pastiest John Cusack ever, as well as the worst digital fire ever.

Two and a half stars out of five

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