Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) arrives in LA to meet Carrie Fisher, her Twitter friend. On the way to her lodgings, she asks to stop at the home of teen star Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird). It’s not long before Agatha becomes the PA to fallen actress Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), and both women realise they are haunted by the ghosts of the past.
Maps to the Stars is an odd sort of film. It is clear from the beginning that all the threads of the story are going to come together, but it feels as though the film takes a long time to get where it is going. Some familiar Cronenberg faces turn up – Robert Pattinson and Sarah Gadon – but while Maps to the Stars becomes an engaging film, it sometimes gets lost in its own muddle.
Julianne Moore channels the like of Liza Minelli and Lindsay Lohan, as she struggles to step out of the shadow cast by her famous mother – and struggles with addiction and mental illness. Moore makes Havana utterly unlikeable, but there is a trace of something within the character that makes the audience root for her, ever so slightly. Mia Wasikowska has proven time and again that she is an actress capable of great depths, and this is true for her performance as Agatha; Wasikowska makes Agatha shy and reserved, yet constantly hints at something darker going on under the surface.
Thank god John Cusack has stepped away from the terrible film choices he made in the last few years, and actually seems to have fun playing the egotistical and dangerous Stafford. Olivia Williams dials up the manic fragility as Hollywood super mom Christina and Robert Pattinson parodies the typical Hollywood chauffeur as Jerome. While all of these performances are strong, it is with the young Evan Bird that things start to fall apart, with his performance feeling wooden and forced.
The story, written by Bruce Wagner, is part ghost story, part mental illness tale and part Hollywood horror tale – so it feels a lot like Clive Barker’s Coldheart Canyon. While everything comes together in the end, there are times when the film seems to meander through its own timeline, unsure of where it is trying to end up. That said, the repeated use of Paul Eluard’s poem Liberty adds some romanticism and mystery to the film, and brings in the idea that each of these tragic people is searching for something or someone that is just out of their reach.
David Cronenberg directs with his typical off-kilter style, allowing Maps to the Stars to exist in a heightened world – perhaps even more heightened than Hollywood itself – which in turn, allows ghosts and death and shadows to fall across the film. While most of the performances are strong, the pacing of the film does leave a lot to be desired, since inconsequential events are drawn out, and the ones that matter whiz across the screen at lightning speed.
Maps to the Stars exists in an unreal world filled with ghosts, madness and death. Initially messy and often badly paced, the film comes together in its final act to paint a tragic portrait of Hollywood Dreams gone very very wrong.