MAPS TO THE STARS —Hollywood & Vile. The title is a riff off that dogged cottage industry, particular to the trend end of L.A., a gig that features people hawking roadside directional guides to the homes of movie actors, mostly those in Beverly Hills. The idea behind this plucky entrepreneurship (nicer way to say shit-job) is to allow the curious (themselves a brew equal parts frantic, vapid and morbid*) to peek at the accursed blessed, take a selfie to show Dana back in Davenport and offer insights on the order of “I guess he/she was a switch-hitter”.
Bruce Wagner’s screenplay likewise pries at what lies hidden behind those mansion gates. As directed under the clinical remove of David Cronenberg, it does more than pry: it sniffs crotches, rends flesh and licks the floor, then shamelessly takes a dump. Thanks to the skill of the performances it’s a hypnotizing narcotic enema for 111 minutes, but to what purgative end? Not content to bite the hand that feeds, it pistol-whips it, indicting an entire business (not one person in this film is anyone you’d muss your hair to save from drowning) and the pay-off is….what? La-La is a moral cesspit? News flash?
No doubt there’s enough backstabbing and fake love** in the hills and boulevards between Pasadena and the Pacific to choke a Weinstein, but, aside from great tits and palm trees, how much worse is it, really, than politics, journalism, the Pentagon, the Fortune 500, the legal profession, academia, sports? Ever work in a department store? Go to school? Family reunion after enough booze? There’s no point to this exorcism, beyond some snatches of humor so black they must have oozed from the La Brea Tar Pits.
Story? Two deeply fucked-up show biz households. One contains lonely, desperate-to-comeback fading star ‘Havana Segrand’ (points for a great name), played by Julianne Moore. She hires a personal assistant, or ‘chore whore‘, played by Mia Wasikowska. The girl, a shy burn victim (recommended by Carrie Fisher, in a cameo as herself, to add a real-life dash of dysfunction), is tied in with the other household, more warped than Saddam Hussein’s, headed by a slimy personality-issues guru (John Cusack), father to a teenage idol punk (Evan Bird) who takes Spoilage to a level that begs remedy on the order of an acid attack.
Framework noted, it’s clear that We Question motive and manner. How about staff? They’re good—and then some. Cusack does his best work in years. Moore is sensational, baring just about everything to inhabit the Star as Egomonster. She’s so real it hurts, her defeated/defiant eyes and snap-crackle smile veritable kaleidoscopes of vain pain—yet she needed a better movie to surround her. The assumption presented is that the pretenders and hangers-on are sum total. As any sort of fair,’true’ look at the actual workaday business of making motion pictures,—all the intricate, ingenious, coordinated craft, dedication, artistry—Wagner & Cronenberg offer nothing but a spit-take.
After all this steam, I copp to being strangely held by the movie (in large part by Moore) much in the way I enjoy other demented wrecking balls like The Chase, Mulholland Drive or Blue Velvet, agreeing with A.O. Scott’s remark that “you may find yourself drawn back to it, and retracing its route from the familiar to the uncanny, from entertainment to revulsion, from dream to nightmare.”
Reviews were divided 60/40, ranging from respectful to repulsed. Costing $13,000,000, it made but $4,000,000. With Robert Pattinson, Olivia Williams, Sarah Gadon, Justin Kelly and Dawn Greenhaigh. Credits sequences on either end are nifty.
*Like the film and its insider-choked rambles, you could play off the guide-waving address hawkers and tail your wag ’til the mink stoles come home. Morph your smirk from The Bad And The Beautiful to ‘The Envious And The Futile’, The Carpetbaggers to ‘The Coat-tailhangers‘, A Star Is Born to ‘A Nameless Asteroid Disintegrates’……or you could just stop right now (please).
**I wonder how gushing the DVD Special Features interviews are for this? “David allows you the freedom”… “so generous”… “giving, as a performer”, etc., ad wankdom, until you throw up. As gripping as Moore was in this, I could have lived without seeing her on the toilet, farting. It shares Actor Baring Self shtick with that seminal garbage Last Tango In Paris (Brando’s therapy-as-art enough to make you wish the Fuhrers ‘torch it’ order had been carried out) or the recent The Master, where Joaquin Phoenix seeks inner truth by humping sand. Things are tough all over. You’re making millions. Get help. The right-wing ghouls on Fox love this exhibitionism from liberal artists—they feed the disconnected goop to their angry, jealous Jesus O’Hannity disciples who then can’t wait to defund everything social that doesn’t pack a gun. Clear to me. Where’s that VHS of The Oscar……?