Maps To The Stars review

Burn, Hollywood, burn…

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It seems strange that it’s taken David Cronenberg this long to shoot a movie in Los Angeles – or, for that matter, America. Still, better late than never. Maps To The Stars not only lands him in the heart of Hollywood, it sees him drive a great big stake through it. Arguably his best work since 2005’s A History Of Violence , it’s a scabrous, satirical chomp on the hand that feeds – and, boy, is he hungry.

Maps nestles among the best showbiz sideswipes – from Vincente Minnelli’s The Bad And The Beautiful to Robert Altman’s The Player . Indeed, it even surpasses the latter. Here, Hollywood is the backdrop to a monstrous, multiple-character study.

Leading the charge is the Weiss family, a shockingly dysfunctional clan comprising John Cusack’s life-guru Stafford, fragile wife Christina (Olivia Williams) and son Benjie (Evan Bird), a repugnant, rehab-occupying teen star who made his fortune in comedy series ‘Bad Babysitter’. Bird, best known for his role in the US remake of The Killing , is quite superb, channelling everyone from Macaulay Culkin to Justin Bieber as he delivers his lines with a warped sense of entitlement.

Yet there are others in this pit of vipers: has-been actress Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), vying for a role in a remake of a film her actress-mother starred in. There’s Jerome (Robert Pattinson), a limo-driver with actor/screenwriter aspirations. And finally Agatha, a timid out-of-towner, played by Mia Wasikowska.

Carrying a noticeable scar on her flesh, Agatha arrives on a Greyhound bus, ostensibly to work for Carrie Fisher (the one star cameo), having met on Twitter. Soon enough, she’s Havana’s PA, becoming our guide to this selfish, survive-at-all-costs town, as the aforementioned all criss-cross, reeking of bitterness, desperation or self-interest.

Of all the performances, Moore is the stand-out (rightly claiming Cannes’ Best Actress). From an explicit threesome and a true moment of body horror to singing a Bananarama ditty when she finds out a rival actress has just suffered unbearable tragedy, Moore does nerveless, peerless work, eclipsing even some of the soul-baring she’s done for PT Anderson.

Detractors may carp that Cronenberg is showing us nothing new, but Maps is so flawless in its execution, it vividly refreshes the subject matter. Never overcooking the setting, it’s a story right in his wheelhouse; a very human look at characters barely clinging to their humanity. It’s horrific stuff, just as all the best Cronenberg movies are.

A script written in venom, Cronenberg on bullish form and a cast on full power; this is one of the best Hollywood take-downs ever mounted.

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Freelance writer

James Mottram is a freelance film journalist, author of books that dive deep into films like Die Hard and Tenet, and a regular guest on the Total Film podcast. You'll find his writings on GamesRadar+ and Total Film, and in newspapers and magazines from across the world like The Times, The Independent, The i, Metro, The National, Marie Claire, and MindFood.