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Cronenberg's "Maps to the Stars" Polarizes at Cannes, But Defenders Call It His Best in a Decade

Reviews
by Sam Adams
May 18, 2014 8:52 PM
6 Comments
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Robert Pattinson in David Cronenberg's "Maps to the Stars"
Robert Pattinson in David Cronenberg's "Maps to the Stars"

David Cronenberg's "Maps to the Stars" has some critics raving about its Cannes premiere, others left cold, and very few in the middle. Perhaps the most intriguing responses to the dark satire about former child stars drifting through contemporary Los Angeles come from critics who don't feel ready to weigh in after a single viewing, at least not without a few hours to digest, suggesting that the verdict won't be in on this one until the furor of the festival has finally subsided. With a script by novelist Bruce Wagner and a cast that includes Robert Pattinson, Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska and John Cusack, as well as Carrie Fisher, herself a mordant chronicler of Tinseltown excesses, it certainly has its bona fides in order, and the hosannahs are intense enough to raise expectations that the dissents don't manage to drown out. After all, if no one hated it, it would be a David Cronenberg movie, would it?

Reviews of "Maps to the Stars"

Robbin Collin, Telegraph

It’s the Canadian director’s best film at least since "Spider," in 2002, and could conceivably lead to his first Palme d'Or. My instant reaction, after stumbling, open-mouthed, from the cinema, was a pathological need to stumble back in again. There's so much in this seething cauldron of a film, so many film-industry neuroses exposed and horrors nested within horrors, that one viewing is too much, and not nearly enough. Cronenberg has made a film that you want to unsee -- and then see and unsee again.

David Jenkins, Little White Lies

The film can be consumed as a straight-arrow take on the modern movie industry and its discontents, but it's clear there's another, possibly more interesting and radical film obscured in the backdrop by the thick LA smog. It's an infuriating movie, and that is possibly the point. It feels like a ten-part TV mini-series which has been inelegantly compressed to feature length.

Peter Bradshaw, Guardian

A gripping and exquisitely horrible movie about contemporary Hollywood --  positively vivisectional in its sadism and scorn. It is twisted, twisty, and very far from all the predictable outsider platitudes about celebrity culture. Perhaps, in the end, it is too extravagantly cynical to be entirely truthful about Hollywood and LA, but it has a Jacobean power, the kind of thing that John Webster or Thomas Middleton and William Rowley might write if they were living in the 21st century: a claustrophobic nightmare of despair.

Julianne Moore in David Cronenberg's "Maps to the Stars"
Julianne Moore in David Cronenberg's "Maps to the Stars"

Catherine Bray, Film 4

A sublime black comedy of manners involving characters with lives as lurid as any in Kenneth Anger’s trash opus Hollywood Babylon (that infamous book’s sales blurb -- "the legendary underground classic of Hollywood’s darkest and best kept secrets" -- could, with only a little rewording, double as a tagline.

Peter Howell, Toronto Star

The film unfolds like the grandest of Greek tragedies, where flaws and secrets within its otherwise powerful and successful characters are about to erupt like a volcano or tsunami -- and indeed, the contrasting elements of fire and water are shot through Wagner’s brutally amusing script.

Eric Kohn, Indiewire

"Maps to the Stars" captures the depths of madness plaguing Hollywood culture that other recent attempts at similar territory, such as "The Canyons" and "Trust Me," achieved to far lesser effect. Cronenberg turns Hollywood into a haven of grotesqueries that so thoroughly consumes its inhabitants they can't see it around them. 

Oliver Lyttleton, Playlist

Certainly the director's most twisted, and as a consequence, most deliciously entertaining film, in quite a long while.

Dave Calhoun, Time Out

Some of this creepy portrait of Beverly Hills screw-ups is deeply silly -- here’s looking at you, John Cusack as a self-help guru with a nasty past -- but it has just enough venomous bite to leave you feeling poisoned simply from being in the company of these gargoyles for two hours.

John Cusack in David Cronenberg's "Maps to the Stars"
John Cusack in David Cronenberg's "Maps to the Stars"

Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter

It's often the case that outsiders have a way of looking at any setting, including Hollywood, and seeing things locals take for granted. But Cronenberg assumes a distinctly clinical approach to the emotional, social and business shenanigans on display here, a perspective that has brilliantly served some of his overtly psychological, horror and sci-fi pieces but gives this one a brittle and airless feel.

Drew McWeeny, HitFix

I think "Maps to the Stars" is more entertaining (in a decidedly ghoulish way) than "Cosmopolis" was, but I think it is just as hobbled, both thematically and dramatically. One of the things that I find most immediately mystifying about the film is that, considering all the people involved and their collective decades and decades of experience in and around Hollywood, it curiously feels like they're describing a place they have only a passing knowledge of, a place they know mainly by reputation and fantasy.

Lee Marshall, Screen Daily

With its permeable line between life and death, incest themes and its anger-fuelled satirical animus against the rich and famous, Maps to the Stars traces at least part of its ancestry all the way back to Ancient Greece and Rome. It’s a baggy, audacious mix that makes up in brio what it lacks in dramatic coherence. 

Jordan Hoffman, Film.com

Cronenberg's map doesn’t lead to a satisfying destination in a typical story sense, but it is a remarkable quest. For a movie that has so many problems, it is one of the more watchable ones.

Peter Labuza, Film Stage

It’s a film that, more than any other work from Cronenberg, seems largely stilted, too unfocused to bring together a cohesive narrative thread, and one that suddenly zooms for an ending that feels entirely undercooked.

Stave Pond, Wrap

"Maps to the Stars" might be disturbing to those who don't yet realize the corrupt and repugnant culture of celebrity we're all living through right now. But Wagner slips in the most exquisite prose, which blows through the film like the Santa Ana winds scented with jasmine, California style. It is in these moments that the film is elevated beyond black comedy into existential surrealism.

Peter Debruge, Variety

This is the most overtly comedic screenplay Cronenberg has ever directed, but he hasn’t adapted his lensing or editing style to reflect that. The laughs come anyway, although some of Wagner’s funniest moments are left to languish.

Charles Ealey, Austin360

Cronenberg isn't at the top of his game in "Maps to the Stars." But it shows a return to form, especially after the disappointing "Cosmopolis" of 2012.

Barbara Scharres, RogerEbert.com

"Maps to the Stars" looks and feels clunky and disjointed. It sounds good on paper, but it’s a mess on the screen.

Rebecca Cope, Harper's Bazaar

Meandering towards a strange and thrilling climax, this isn’t the film to reinvent Cronenberg’s career, but it’s enough to keep us interested, sitting in the aisles.

Jason Gorber, Twitch

Cronenberg is now in a phase that simply no longer speaks to me, a cold and dreary cinema that's as dull as it is forgettable. 

6 Comments

  • Nia | May 24, 2014 4:27 PMReply

    Loved Spider, but hated Cosflopolis. Pattinson was awful. Thank god he had a small part.

  • Nathan Duke | May 19, 2014 8:26 AMReply

    I too admit to being a bit confused by some of the critics who keep referring to Cronenberg's need for a comeback. "Cosmopolis" was panned by some and liked by others, but "A Dangerous Method," "Eastern Promises," "A History of Violence" and "Spider" were (rightfully) well-liked by most. "Method," "Violence" and "Spider" topped the lists of several prominent critics during their years of release and "Eastern Promises" made a number of top tens.

  • Tony | May 19, 2014 5:32 PM

    I think to some, Cosmopolis revealed that the seemingly upward trajectory of the prior films was in fact an illusion. From A History of Violence on, each film seems like a step lower than the previous one.

  • lee | May 19, 2014 6:38 AMReply

    Trusting our bunch of movie critics less and less (especially when they're punch drunk at Cannes). Robbie Collin's take reeks of hyperbole, he gave a similar rave to Cosmopolis, but now seems to be subtly suggesting this new one is some kind of return to greatness, and has he forgotten entirely that History of Violence was universally lauded by more than a few publications as film of the year, and in others film of the decade? Clear eyed, measured reviews would be much appreciated, but maybe the realisation is a good one, clearly the message is ignore them all and follow your own instinct.

  • lee | May 19, 2014 10:57 AM

    Don't know about leeches, how about your regular, bog standard movie obsessive with a fancy job title? However I imagine their lot is not to be envied, spending too much of your life in the dark staring at a screen can make one prone to hysteria, and loss of perspective, also having to create thousands of words about every film you see can very often lead to chronic bullshititus.

  • Dave | May 19, 2014 7:21 AM

    Critics! The leeches who piggyback the showbiz ride! Free passes to premieres, anyone?

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