DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
In "Maps To The Stars," director David Cronenberg and screenwriter Bruce Wagner focus on a group of Hollywood stars, want-to-be stars, ex-stars and desperate hangers-on. John Cusack plays a self-help guru whose clients include Julianne Moore, who won a best actress prize at last year's Cannes Film Festival for her performance as an actress clinging to fame. Film critic David Edelstein has this review.
DAVID EDELSTEIN, BYLINE: Ever since Hollywood became Hollywood, books and films have told of its venality and decadence. But it's never seemed as toxic as it does in "Maps Of The Stars." No hyperbole. This collaboration between writer Bruce Wagner and director David Cronenberg is a case study in incest, both metaphorical and literal. And it's either the funniest horror movie ever made or the most horrific comedy. The question is whether amid monstrous people doing monstrous things, you can still detect the cry of a human heart. The movie centers on a family - the Weiss's - who raise the bar for high-achieving dysfunction. Dr. Stafford Weiss, played by John Cusack, is a best-selling self-help author who induces people, especially wealthy stars, to expel their primal traumas via body manipulation. We first see him using his peculiar techniques on an aging, childish star named Havana Segrand, played by Julianne Moore, the actress-daughter of a much more famous movie star who died tragically young by her own hand. As he twists Havana's limbs, the therapist directs her to lash out at her mother, who might have sexually assaulted her. Weiss has built a career on combating repression. He made think of the doctor played by Oliver Reed in Cronenberg's 1979 horror masterpiece "The Brood." But it turns out, Weiss's whole life is built on repressing a truth so ghastly that its repercussions go on and on. It can be seen on the face of his wife Christina, played by Olivia Williams, a nervous, inward-gazing wreck whose life revolves around her child-actor son Benjie. And it can be seen in Benjie, played by Evan Bird, a teen superstar who finds new ways daily of being an entitled little creep. You can also see it in Weiss's daughter, who, years earlier, while babysitting, burned down the family house and meant to incinerate herself and her brother, too. "Maps To The Stars" is about what happens when the burned prodigal daughter comes back. These are all nightmarish people, but the most damaged might be Julianne Moore's Havana, who enters the pantheon of Hollywood freaks. She's desperately trying to be cast in the role of her own aging mother - if her mother had lived - in a sort of meta-remake of her of her mother's biggest hit. And if you have no idea what I'm talking about, I sympathize. "Maps To The Stars" is like a navel-gazing hall of mirrors. You'd go mad trying to diagram it. Just savor the way Moore cocks her head and blurts her narcissistic, drug-addled sentiments through Botoxed lips, the embodiment of a middle-aged Lindsay Lohan, should Lindsay be lucky enough to live so long. What a mesmerizingly mean portrait. In a pivotal scene, she goes after her wildly unstable personal assistant, recommended to her by Carrie Fisher, and played by an unusually meek Mia Wasikowska.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MAPS TO THE STARS")
JULIANNE MOORE: (As Havana Segrand) Oh my God, you bled. Don't you - don't you use Tampax? Are you psychotic?
MIA WASIKOWSKA: (As Agatha Weiss) I'm sorry.
MOORE: (As Havana Segrand) I don't believe this. My crazy assistant just bled on my $12,000 couch.
WASIKOWSKA: (As Agatha Weiss) I'm sorry. I'll pay for it...
MOORE: (As Havana Segrand) Go to the kitchen and get Perrier and bleach and Google the best way to get rid of a stain. I pick you up off the street. I give you money so you can be late for work and have your period on my furniture. Do you think that Carrie Fisher - do you think Nicole Kidman and Halle Berry have scary little animals working for them?
EDELSTEIN: To say Moore's Havana isn't the worst person on screen should tell you something, at least she's honest. "Maps To The Stars" is the extreme version of life - or more precisely, living death - in a place where every pleasantry recalls the title of producer Lynda Obst's memoir "Hello, He Lied." The movie is full of anxious shock-talk and name-dropping, druggie kids and druggier grown-ups, all of them riddled with fear, people whose careers are dead, but who stagger madly on. Beyond the fearless performances of Moore, Cusack, Williams and Wasikowska, there's a wonderfully subtle turn by Robert Pattinson as a chauffeur to the stars, for whom everyone is screenplay fodder. LA born Bruce Wagner writes messy, passionate characters that the Canadian David Cronenberg films with cool, clinical precision, largely in penetrating close-ups. In the end, these cartoon monsters are rendered with more pity than contempt. They're so desperate to survive in poisoned waters that they've turned into creatures that are positively Cronenbergian.
DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine. Terry returns Monday and she'll speak with writer Chris Offut. His father made a living for his family beginning in the 1950s by writing hundreds of books of pornography. Offut has a forthcoming memoir. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.