If decadence and depravity seem to have gotten worse recently in Hollywood, with all the drug scandals, murders and suicides, David Cronenberg (Crash, Naked Lunch, Cosmopolis) and his latest Maps To The Stars should more than reinforce that collective hunch. A rude and raucous LA cesspool reality check especially for the star struck obsessives in the audience, the film nevertheless walks an exceedingly fine line between depicting Hollywood self-dehumanization, and simply crossing it.
Presiding over this cast of beyond degenerate lunatic characters is John Cusack as Stafford Weiss, a motivational mental health and fitness guru to the stars, plying his elite trade with unorthodox methods that include physical restraint, barking commands, and the pressure tactic eliciting of emotional pain. Among his kooky clientele is Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), an aging diva actress (where 40 is apparently the new 95) longing to play her late screen goddess abusive mother in a new production. And an ambitious obsession that is literally here, to die for – as long as that unfortunate is somebody else.
Then there are a couple of truly bad seeds that happen to be Stafford’s own kids. Including a way beyond bratty child celeb just exiting detox and his pyromaniac institutionalized sister, both with festering homicidal tendencies. Likewise turning up for seemingly sarcastic glee, is Carrie Fisher as herself in this far from coincidental tabloid tall tale touching on abusive parenting and kid counter-revenge. Along with related exploited employee revenge and something to do with retaliatory menstruation on a zillion dollar designer couch, not to mention coincidentally cross-generational arsonist tendencies, death by trophy – don’t ask, and malevolent magical realism kicking in. Then there’s Robert Pattinson, an LA limo driver for hire drudge who just longs to make in it Hollywood, and appears to be the only relatively sane individual in this multiple dark side menu of mix nuts.
I get it, that this movie is all about life such as it is, played out among stars as diseased hyper-individualism, and an avaricious series of egocentrically ambitious transactions in pursuit of getting ahead. And a society in moral decline and increasingly devoid of any individual sense of self, where identity theft metaphorically speaking, gets concentrated on obsessively burrowing into the imagined lives of movie stars
But there’s a troubling irony throughout, that while exposing the malignancy of Hollywood, Cronenberg may be engaging in exploiting it as well. And it’s not just the debasing of Julianne Moore as an actress in instructing her to repeatedly fart and wipe her behind on a toilet while getting nosy with her personal assistant through the open door, demanding details about her orgasms.
There’s also the curious observation that the Hollywood honchos responsible for perpetrating this culture of insatiable greed are quite invisible here and seem to get a pass, possibly in a bid for the director to preserve his own career as a player in all of this. And much like his characters, hiding self-serving machinations behind a public smile.
And ultimately, yet another movie like so many preceding it, full of sound and fury while signifying no particular point about any of it. And a film world sadly tending to be about so many things, except meaning or art.
The NY Film Festival is currently in progress. More information about their screening schedule and special events is online at: filmlinc.com.