The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

'Maps To The Stars' A Disappointing Drive On An Oft-Traveled Road

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 6, 2015 7:30PM

Mia Wasikowska and Julianne Moore in a scene from "Maps to the Stars" (photo: Prospero Pictures/Sentient Entertainment/SBS Productions/Integral Film)

David Cronenberg is 71, but growing older hasn't mellowed him out a bit. In fact, the Canadian auteur best known for his squishy yet cerebral horror films has been on fire the last several years. Since A History of Violence in 2005 he's directed a raft of films as meticulously crafted and unsettling as any of his earlier classics, even as he breaks fresh paths through Cronenbergian territory. Cosmopolis is a movie I find more hypnotic and complex with each viewing, the dense thicket of its dialog meshing in weird and wonderful ways with the central character's navigation through onscreen environments both hyperreal and abstract (shades of eXistenZ). Then last year, Cronenberg published his first novel. Featuring many of his trademark themes, including technology and the body, disease and sexual hunger, Consumed guarantees a rough night's sleep in all the best ways.

But every winning streak must end. Maps to the Stars, an anti-Hollywood satire starring Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson and John Cusack, is a dead end. Or at least, a well-worn road to nowhere.

How well-worn? A quick sketch of the main characters should suffice. Havana Segrand (played by Moore) is an actress of a certain age desperate for a comeback; and a prime role in the remake of one of her late mother's films (an actress herself who died in a mysterious fire) could be just the ticket. Dr. Stafford Weiss (Cusack, in a juicy performance dripping with smarm) is her masseur/life coach, a touchy feely motivational speaker of sorts whose closet has some mighty dusty skeletons. Such as his children's pasts: Benjie (Evan Bird) is a messed-up teen movie star just out of rehab, and Agatha (Wasikowska) is a disturbed and schizophrenic young woman who has just come to LA and landed a job as Segrand's personal assistant. And then there's the chauffeur who drives around town on the edges of the story, played by Pattinson, a sometime actor (naturally) who's also working on a screenplay.

In other words, Hollywood under glass. Bruce Wagner's screenplay gets in a few smart jabs at its self-absorbed and out-of-touch characters, but ultimately feels pretty stale next to Sunset Boulevard., The Day of the Locust, The Player and even last year's Birdman. For instance, the scene detailing a Hollywood meeting, with everyone seated around a table blithely exchanging tactful euphemisms, is dryly funny. Until you remember the funnier one in Mulholland Drive.

Cronenberg gamely plays along, contributing some striking moments that intermittently liven things up. There's an out-of-the-blue moment involving Carrie Fisher that's downright unsettling, for example, and nobody stages weird sex scenes in cars like Cronenberg. Furthermore, a uniformly excellent cast can't be faulted. Moore's needy actress is another fearless portrayal and as doomed siblings Wasikowska and Bird have queasy chemistry. But in the end Maps to the Stars doesn't find a way to make the story or its characters feel particularly fresh. Heavy-handed themes of incest, which lead the story to an anti-climactic conclusion, don't add much either; so when violence and death finally appear in the final act, the effect is curiously unmoving.

Maps to the Stars. Directed by David Cronenberg, screenplay by Bruce Wagner. Starring Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson, and John Cusack. 111 mins. Rated R. Now playing in Chicago at the Music Box Theatre; in New York at Nitehawk Cinema, Cobble Hill Cinemas and IFC Center; Laemmle Playhouse 7, Laemmle NoHo 7 and Sundance Cinemas West Hollywood in Los Angeles; Vogue Theatre, Camera 7 Cinemas and Rialto Cinemas Elmwood in San Francisco; and West End Cinema and AFI Silver in Washington, DC. The film is also available on Video On Demand and streaming via Google Play, iTunes and Vudu.

Opens Friday, March 6 at the Music Box and is currently available via VOD.