Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) is a young girl who has just arrived in Hollywood. Her first acquaintance is attractive Jerome Fontana (Robert Pattinson), a limo chauffeur and – of course – aspiring actor and screenwriter. Agatha befriended Carrie Fisher (as Carrie Fisher) on Twitter, and the Star Wars actress gets her a job with decaying Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), a former A-lister facing serious career problems. An accident in Agatha’s youth connects her with Havana’s deceased mother and the Weiss family: child star Benjie (Evan Bird), father and guru Stafford (John Cusack), and mother Christina (Olivia Williams). Parents get all the money, Benjie believes. The stars are followed by their past, by their ghosts, who connect a labyrinth of sins and regrets we discover throughout the film.
Maps to the Stars is pure satire. Cronenberg gives Hollywood an elegant blow: the city is shown as a comedy itself. We jump into unbeatable egos, disordered souls and a general sense of shallow spirituality with every character.
“I am the franchise!” yells one of those involved. All these persons are well aware of being products rather than individuals. They don’t seem to be bothered. Their guru, Dr. Stafford Weiss, lives in an Architectural Digest mansion and dispenses unorthodox, presumably quite expensive spiritual guidance massages. The true relief to their souls comes in pills of several colours and brands mentioned throughout the film. Switching religions is a career move; a detox ranch is a spiritual retreat.
We hear mentions of reality stars turned actors, of Harvey, of Anne Hathaway. This group of characters are cartoons, pastiches of those many profiles we could easily find in the L.A. film atmosphere. The menopausal starlet could be Sharon Stone or Renée Zellweger; the child actor is a mix of Justin Bieber and Macaulay Culkin; and the driver/aspiring actor could be any hopeful young thespian who gets a day job until the right audition arrives. The cast, ironically enough, is quite Hollywood. Perhaps this is the whole idea: some of the cleverest Hollywood minds laughing at themselves. Julianne Moore stands out, giving one of the bravest, most shocking performances in her unique career. Mia Wasikowska proves she can lead an ambitious film like this, confirming herself as one particularly solid young actress in the circuit. Robert Pattinson continues his Twilight redemption, this time in a film that laughs at what franchise actors like him have faced before.
Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars displays the deepest insight into Hollywood since David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. It’s impossible not to think of them as complementary works, both exploring the subconscious and the haunting past while portraying Hollywood as a land of both opportunity and doom. The approach is what changes: Lynch makes a surreal piece, Cronenberg a satire. By laughing at Hollywood, he also laughs at himself, something to be praised. At one point, a Genie Award is used as a deadly weapon to kill one of the stars. As if Canada were slaying Los Angeles.
Unexpectedly, Maps to the Stars proves to be one of the funniest, most entertaining films in recent memory. It is, however, a typical Cronenberg experience, violent, visceral and unpredictable. These characters show how human they are, yet how indeed they’re mythical creatures, trapped in tales of murder and incest like the gods of Greek mythology. Meanwhile in Cannes, a hysterical audience laughs and claps naïvely, as if a poignant satire like this couldn’t be made on this other ephemeral town of stars in the Mediterranean.