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Cannes Review: David Cronenberg's 'Maps To The Stars' With Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska & Julianne Moore

Reviews
by Oliver Lyttelton
May 18, 2014 4:21 PM
44 Comments
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Real talk: it's been quite a while since David Cronenberg made something truly satisfying. "Cosmopolis" has a few defenders, "A Dangerous Method" not so much, and while there's stuff to like in "Spider," "A History Of Violence" and "Eastern Promises," all felt compromised to some degree or other. Indeed, the truly unfiltered Cronenberg picture, one where bits fall off people or people try to have sex with orifices not traditionally used for any sexual act, seems like something of a distant memory at this point.

But good news is here, because the Canadian director's latest, "Maps To The Stars," just premiered at Cannes, and while it's substantially different from the "Videodrome"s and "Crash"es of the world, and probably rather more disposable, it's certainly the director's most twisted, and as a consequence, most deliciously entertaining film, in quite a long while.

Based on the novel by Bruce Wagner (who also wrote the script), the film opens with the arrival of Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) back in Los Angeles after a long period away. Disfigured by burns from long ago (partially hidden by her ever-present elbow-length gloves, like an emo Holly Golightly), she tells limo driver Jerome (Robert Pattinson - behave yourself, comments section) that she's there to visit family, but shows little sign of actually doing so, instead getting a job as the PA (or 'chore whore,' as the film charmingly puts it) for fading movie star Havana (Julianne Moore).

Havana is the daughter of a drug-addled star who died young (Sarah Gadon), and is in the process of pursuing the role of her mom in a new remake of the film that made her name. She's also a client of self-help guru/therapist/masseur Stafford Weiss, whose wife Christina (Olivia Williams) manages the interest of their bratty, Bieberish 13-year-old son Benjie, star of the $800 million-grossing "Bad Babysitter." Oh, and as becomes clear swiftly, they're the family that Agatha was speaking of, and they have no interest in seeing her.

It sounds rather convoluted and out-there on paper, and Cronenberg does rather throw you in at the deep end (particularly for general audience, who may struggle with references to Chuck Lorre and first-dollar gross). But the script, while occasionally clunkily-worded, is smartly and speedily told, carefully parceling out its revelations and twists so that the two hours pretty much fly by.

A major part of the fun is the way that Cronenberg takes such obvious relish in biting the hand that feeds him (or at least used to feed him). If "Sunset Boulevard," "All About Eve" and Kenneth Anger's "Hollywood Babylon" took a bunch of prescription medication, had a two-day three-way and conceived a child, nine months later the child would look something like "Map To The Stars." There's a bridge-burning glee in the way that names, from Ryan Gosling to Paul Thomas Anderson, are dropped in the early stages. There is a slight sense that it could end up dating the movie, but it's filtered out as it moves into the second half.

And what a second half. Hollywood's seemed pretty rotten from the off in the film, but as Cronenberg exposes its stinking maggoty core of ghosts, sexual deviancy and cover-ups, the film takes on a nightmarish K-hole tone of its own, while remaining darkly, bitterly funny to the last. LA's rarely seemed as unappealing on screen, which is quite the feat.

The director's also been gifted a cracking cast for the material. Before you ask: no, Robert Pattinson isn't in it all that much (his role could argue be lifted from the film without too much problem), but yes, he's pretty good in it. Plus you get to see him as a sort of glam-rock version of Khan from "Star Trek," so there's that. Olivia Williams' role is similarly underwritten, but she does find new texture to the kind of ice maiden that she's riffed on before.

Mia Wasikowska's also playing in a similar sandbox to some of her previous work, but we could see her do this sort of slightly unhinged, slightly sweet character all day. And "The Killing" star Evan Bird makes a really impressive breakthrough as Benjie: he's very adept at playing a little shit, but somehow manages to find ways to make that little shit oddly sympathetic. Best of all are John Cusack, who gets the best role he's had in at least a decade, and tears into the chance to play a total monster, and Julianne Moore, who can sum up a lifetime of entitlement, vanity and tragedy in one Valley Girl-inflected line delivery.

It's not, it should be said, the director's most substantial work. The risk of making a film about superficiality is that it comes across as superficial itself, and while we had a blast with it, we do wonder how long it'll linger in the memory. And we have to confess that we weren't totally in love with the photography of longtime Cronenberg DoP Peter Suschitzky, and occasionally fantasized as to how the film would have looked with some fresher blood lighting it (the director's other frequent colleague Howard Shore does cracking work here).

But on the whole, the film is a sickly enjoyable wallow in the scandalous, fucked-up side of showbusiness, and a real return to form for the filmmaker. If nothing else, it'll rid you of any last desire to go on an actual LA star tour, and that alone is something to be thankful for. [B+]

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44 Comments

  • Dave | May 29, 2014 2:23 PMReply

    Once again, just who the heck are these people who write for this site and who the heck is Oliver Lyttleton? Plenty of fans love "A Dangerous Method" and some consider it one of Cronenberg's best works and "Eastern Promises" is one of the best films this past decade.

  • Magaret | May 20, 2014 4:24 AMReply

    A thoughtful and interesting review. I am glad you don't treat Robert Pattinson like a piece of meat to throw away, but give him respect. Much of the latter is missing in many articles about him, sometimes I imagine because of envy. I wish him the best and look forward to his next movies.

    John Cusack is a very good actor and I like him a lot, he was especially good in The Paperboy I thought, although he plays a perfectly disgusting man. I am always interested in his movies and opinions. Julianne Moore is terrific and I imagine she must be just great in this role. Don't know Mia very much, but look forward to seeing her. Margaret

  • Bobbye Smith | May 19, 2014 4:48 PMReply

    I personally do not listen to critics. They are so negative about movies these days its ridiculous. I know I am capable of judging what is good to me or not. After all it is my money I am spending. I like Cronenberg and his films. I don't get why people are so negative about Robert Pattinson since he made the Twilight series. I for one hope he does well. Kristen and Taylor will be fine also. I just wish people would stop being so mean to our young and up coming actors. Robert has aligned himself with great directors and superstars like Julianne Moore and John Cusack. I wish Kristen's and Robs fans realize that these are real people who played characters in a very lucrative movie. I am a fan of Robs but I am looking to see Kristen and Taylors movies also. Sometimes I wonder if critics think they can do a better job in movies or are they just cranky dudes who still live in past? They only seem to like stars from yester year.

  • setha2z | May 20, 2014 2:35 AM

    Hear, hear! These are young actors learning their craft. I think the main difference between them and most of their peers is that they lucked onto the juggernaut Twilight enterprise and with it tons of worldwide popularity and notice, money, fame, and with it probably undeserved vaulting to the so-called "A-List". That list alone gives them access to some of the genre's best and brightest talents anywhere. Unfortunately, they obtained a crowd of haters for whatever their motivations may be, most probably unhealthy. You are right though, they are and will do fine. I will enjoy watching their progress. Seth

  • MDL | May 19, 2014 12:38 PMReply

    That opening paragraph is problematic. A Dangerous Method has more than had its defenders. It has a 77% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and ranked top 20 in the IndieWire best film survey. Also, The History of Violence and Eastern Promises were among his highest rated films. So not sure where you are coming from except maybe the critical reception in your head.

  • just me | May 19, 2014 11:55 AMReply

    Dear fellow Roberts' fans! it's been five years, you all must be at least 18 years old by now. if you don't want people to call you/us loonies Stop with the hateful comments on his Twilight co-stars such as Taylor Lautner and Kristen Stewart, they have nothing to do with The Rover or MTTS. Taylor had always nothing but good things to say about Rob.
    some of us just have no self-respect at all.

  • Grow up | May 23, 2014 10:03 PM

    Kristen Stewart's "fans" embarrass themselves in every comment section. It's time to let go of Pattinson. He's gone out of his way for over a year now to avoid being seen with her. They are not connected at all. He confirmed at Cannes that he is single.

    It's time for her fans to move on and stop making fools out of themselves. I'm sure she doesn't appreciate your immaturity.

  • Jenn | May 19, 2014 1:09 PM

    Nobody is leaving hateful comments about them. You're mistaking Robert Pattinson fans for Krisbians.

  • Washington | May 19, 2014 7:59 AMReply

    and I thought Jagernauth was the worst writer on here

  • Abko | May 20, 2014 11:37 PM

    Of course.

  • Nina | May 19, 2014 5:54 AMReply

    Glad to see John Cusack working with Cronenberg. Both are talented artists and I can't wait to see this film!

  • kat | May 19, 2014 5:43 AMReply

    Robert Pattinson fans r looney.
    Most think he is Edward.
    They ship him with Kristen Stewart even now. They hate Taylor Lautner for no apparent reason .
    They want everyone to feel sorry for
    him because he was cheated on. Was he
    cheated on? If the relationship was a gimmick to sell movie tickets?

  • just me | May 19, 2014 11:32 AM

    the same BS over the years again and again....
    some of us are looney
    most of us suspect he is Robert Pattinson, human
    some of us naive enough to think he is still with Kristen and Kristen is with him
    we like Taylor, at least i like Taylor and feel respect for him, he shares the same fate with most of Twilight stars and as underrated as most of them. i wish him good luck and true love
    we don't care if others feel sorry for Robsten, we moved over, unlike you
    only true haters with no life could think anyone spends five years of their precious life with a gf/bf just to sell movie tickets... as if they wouldn't sold anyway.

  • Malibu | May 18, 2014 7:17 PMReply

    I'm glad John Cusack got in a good film for a change, I've been waiting for this since Say Anything, honestly. The whole inside Hollywood deal sounds delicious to me. Leave it to Cronenberg to expose the crazy underbelly that makes the picture business run.

  • Ducati | May 18, 2014 7:17 PMReply

    Bubble, you sound pretty mediocre yourself calling Naked Lunch shallow and fogettable, what a ridiculous statement. Talk about shallow. You should be thankful you're in Cannes (allegedly) and was able to be exposed to another work from one of the most accomplished filmmakers of the past few decades. Other than that you are better off going back to where you came from.

  • bubble | May 18, 2014 7:07 PMReply

    I saw the film today. This article is spot on. It's fun but it's shallow and forgettable, just like Naked Lunch.

  • Boy | May 19, 2014 2:11 PM

    Hope that's true. Naked Lunch is in my top 3 of Cronenberg's movies.

  • just me | May 19, 2014 11:34 AM

    pretentious much?

  • Chris | May 18, 2014 6:48 PMReply

    Aw c'mon! Spider was aces.

  • Grego | May 18, 2014 6:22 PMReply

    That whole real tak thing strikes me as mostly uninformed. It's true that Cosmopolis has a few defenders, but not at all true that A Dangerous Method doesn't. It finished fifth on the film comment poll in 2011 and was J Hobermans film of the year. As for the compromised nature of his more mature works...that doesn't lessen them at all, and at least A History of Violence and some would say Spider are two of his best films. Just because he's gone the cerebral route doesn't mean the films aren't as good as his more unhinged stuff.

  • Ducati | May 18, 2014 6:17 PMReply

    A mediocre writer can only write a mediocre review. The comments are spot on though.

  • Rod | May 18, 2014 6:09 PMReply

    i sincerely think the writers on this blog create dissenting points of view to increase clicks-per-post rates. that first paragraph is atrocious. i guess i won't be reading anymore lyttleton posts and jagernauth's typos are worse than a drunkard's autocorrects.

  • K | May 18, 2014 6:01 PMReply

    Trying to search through reactions through twitter and all I got was a barrage of twilight fans spasming over someone's mediocrity

  • @RPG | May 20, 2014 12:08 AM

    "Yeah, but fans weren't maniacally throwing themselves at him like the second coming of Elvis the way they were when Twilight came out. HP didn't make him a star."
    Actually, they did. Girls were going nutz about Cedric. I know as HP fan. And to be fair HP put him a map, Twilight made him a star.

  • Chris | May 19, 2014 8:23 AM

    So, because they knew of Robert Pattinson through Twilight they are only allowed to be Twilight fans? You do realize Twilight is just a set of movies and he's just an actor in those movies. WTF? Are all Leo fans Titanic fans, all Brad Pitt fans, Thelma and Louise fans, all Ryan Gosling fans The Notebook fans? It's because they are "acting". Rob Pattinson didn't absorb the universe and become Edward Cullen in real life. It's as if you think his acting was so good in the role he confused you forever.

  • RPG | May 19, 2014 1:19 AM

    "He was Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter 4 long before Twilight was even written."

    Yeah, but fans weren't maniacally throwing themselves at him like the second coming of Elvis the way they were when Twilight came out. HP didn't make him a star.

  • Move on | May 18, 2014 10:19 PM

    He was Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter 4 long before Twilight was even written, he was not an unknown. That's why Summit wanted him for Twilight.

    And yes, his fans are not Twilight fans. Just ask them instead of assuming you know everything.

  • RPG | May 18, 2014 7:18 PM

    "Pattinson's fans are not Twilight fans."

    Oh, please. No one knew who the hell he was before Twilight.

  • So bitter, so sad for you | May 18, 2014 7:11 PM

    @K, wise up. Pattinson's fans are not Twilight fans. They dislike that franchise as much as he does. And of course Twitter is full of tweets about MTTS, it's the big film at Cannes today.

    And there was no mediocrity in MTTS or The Rover for that matter. The majority of reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. Too bad for you, huh?

  • lee | May 18, 2014 5:45 PMReply

    ''Real talk: it's been quite a while since David Cronenberg made something truly satisfying...A History Of Violence and Eastern Promises, all felt compromised to some degree or other'' Real talk: that is enough for me to mistrust this entire review.

  • lee | May 19, 2014 6:10 AM

    No I have it all in perspective, understand no work of art is 'perfect', and thank the reviewer for his honesty, but for all that, find his taste is criminally questionable. I'd add in reply to the 'finally Cusack' comments that he pulled off a similarly meaty role in Paperboy, which feels similar in bonkers tone to this one, I'm all in for a bit of subversion and polarization, but classic story telling with depth, and an edge, is much tougher to achieve. History of Violence is that epoch.

  • Dale | May 18, 2014 7:14 PM

    Hyper sensitive much? I have no problem with that paragraph, it's honest. All he's saying is they weren't perfect. And that this film is Cronenberg in a way he hasn't been seen in a long time. I'm all for that, sounds good to me.

  • JP | May 18, 2014 5:17 PMReply

    "like an emo Holly Golightly"

    Nice.

  • jacob4ever | May 18, 2014 5:12 PMReply

    #teamjacob

  • Emperor Zerg Rush | May 18, 2014 10:53 PM

    Even Hollywood couldn't make that happen. I'd say "poor Taylor Lautner" but then stop as I realize that the mattresses full of money he sleeps on probably keep him comforted despite his career as a leading man dissolving into thin air.

  • Reed | May 18, 2014 4:48 PMReply

    It's about time Cusack had a great role. Maybe this will open up some other opportunities for him because it would be nice to see him in better fare. Pattinson's role is based on Bruce Wagner himself who wrote this gem so little to no chance that Cronenberg was ever going to excise it.

  • JP | May 19, 2014 1:20 AM

    He was also apparently mentioned in the Bryan Singer scandal.

  • Anya | May 18, 2014 4:44 PMReply

    The name-dropping makes me want to see this movie even more. Julianne looked amazing just from the trailers, I can't wait!

    And fwiw, I *loved* A Dangerous Method. I must have seen it some 20 times already.

  • Kate | May 18, 2014 4:39 PMReply

    A Dangerous Method was #11 on the Village Voice Poll, #5 on the Film Comment end of the year poll. And on all three of the NY Times critic's end of the year lists.

    I think Cosmopolis did even better in 2012.

    That's more than "a few defenders" and "not so much". If the films aren't to your taste, that's fine, but neither of them were poorly received overall.

  • Brian | May 18, 2014 5:35 PM

    That whole opening paragraph really bugged the hell out of me. If you didn't like A Dangerous Method or Cosmopolis, fine, but to pretend that the overall reception was negative is flat-out wrong and reeks of solipsism. I also can't see why Spider, A History of Violence, or Eastern Promises would be considered "compromised" in some way, unless you think body horror Cronenberg is the only true Cronenberg, which seems like a pretty narrow-minded way to view his work.

  • Mike | May 18, 2014 4:52 PM

    I want to "like" the hell out of this comment.

  • mckenzie | May 18, 2014 4:36 PMReply

    How dare you not talk more about Rob? Wow you're really biased.

  • Franka | May 18, 2014 4:37 PM

    Hoping for the sake of all humanity that this is a joke.

  • serena | May 18, 2014 4:26 PMReply

    Glad to hear John Cusack is the cat's pajamas in this one. It's been way too long since he's been in anything half decent.

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