I feel like Maps to the Stars is somehow critic-proof, even if it has a whole bunch of problems, is completely incoherent if you have to write its plot out in words (although it kind of works in the moment), and is so weird and kind of disturbing and also kind of entertaining. Yeah, I really don’t know what to make of this. It’s part Hollywood satire, part dysfunctional family drama, and part “I’m being haunted by a ghost” story.
Everyone is connected to one another here. If we have a lead, it’s probably Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), who comes to L.A. after having been in Florida for several years. She’s got burn marks on her face and is looking for a job. She’s hired by Havana (Julianne Moore) as her personal assistant. Havana is an aging actress who lives in the shadow of her mother (Sarah Gadon), who frequently appears as a ghost. Havana is a client of a psychologist played by John Cusack, who is married to a woman played by Olivia Williams. Together, they have a son named Benjie (Evan Bird), a successful TV actor whose ego is out of control. Oh, and they’re also Agatha’s parents. She was sent away for reasons that I’m going to consider spoilers.
Does that seem messy? It only scratches the surface. And I didn’t even mention a limo driver played by Robert Pattinson. Well, now I have. Essentially, all of these people are haunted by something in their past, and it messes them up, possibly to the point of no return. We get to see them all break down, slowly, over the course of the film. We take lots of potshots at the Hollywood lifestyle along the way, too, probably because the film was directed by someone who doesn’t make “Hollywood movies,” David Cronenberg.
There are parts of Maps to the Stars that are funny. Much of them involves the satirizing of Hollywood culture, and our relationship to the entertainment industry as a whole. There are also parts that are intellectually stimulating. You’ll think for some of this film. There are more moments that are just weird or bizarre — ones that you won’t be sure how to take, but you keep watching anyway, hoping they’ll lead to something bigger. Sometimes they do; often they do not.
That isn’t to say that Maps to the Stars is boring in any way. It’s not. It’s consistently interesting simply because of how weird — and often perverse — it is. The problem comes from trying to keep the plot from being too much of a mess, and that’s something that couldn’t happen. It gets tangled. Too many elements all compete for screen time and they all can’t get it. The interconnections become too many and too implausible. But, perhaps that’s the point. Everyone knows everyone in Hollywood — or knows someone who knows everyone.
If there’s one thing that I think everyone’s going to take from Maps to the Stars, it’s how great Julianne Moore is in it. She’s … completely unhinged and does a wonderful job at it. The emotional highs and lows she reaches here is astounding, and the craziness that she has to display will shock some people. She’s a mess before she starts seeing ghost people. What do you think happens afterward?
That’s not to say anything negative about anyone else in the film, but Moore could be an Oscar contender … if the film wasn’t currently scheduled for an early 2015 release, which means nobody will remember it when it becomes Oscar season. Hopefully it’ll get a limited release in December of 2014. Mia Wasikowska plays a different kind of crazy, John Cusack and Olivia Williams are supposed to be dependable adults — until they aren’t, and Evan Bird is really good as a Bieberesque brat.
Maps to the Stars is like a calculated mess. It has too much going on, it’s incredibly weird, you’ll be creeped out by parts of it — and yet, you’ll always be engaged. It’s anchored by another truly great performance from Julianne Moore, in addition to some strong supporting work — and it will make you think and laugh for lots of its running time. It’s too filled, too jumbled, and a lot of people probably won’t find it terribly entertaining if they know little about movies or the Hollywood lifestyle, but its satire works and I enjoyed it.