Map to the Stars – Hollyweird
Quick story about David Cronenberg; My earliest memory of his work is actually not even a film he directed, it’s a film that he appeared in. As a kid I remember watching “Nightbreed” and being scared out of my mind. Sure there are plenty of monsters and mutants in the film, but the one thing that stood out to me was a guy in a mask with a zipper and buttons for eyes. Only later would I find out that man behind the mask was David Cronenberg, the same guy behind classics like “The Fly” and “Scanners.” In the past decade or so, Cronenberg has taken a departure form the “body horror” that had made him famous, and has concentrated on more intimate character pieces like “Eastern Promises” and “Cosmopolis.” Now, in what I might call his most interesting work in quite some time, Cronenberg takes on Hollyweird and all of it’s kookiness in “Map to the Stars,” starring Julianne Moore, Robert Pattinson, John Cusack, and Mia Wasikowska.
The skinny on “Map” is this; young Agatha (Wasikowska) arrives in town and is greeted by limo driver, Jerome (Pattinson). Agatha has just gotten into town via Jupiter, Florida and is looking for Benji Weiss, the young star of the “Bad Babysitter” series of films. Meanwhile, we meet Havana (Moore) the daughter of movie star who died in a fire who is receiving counseling from Dr. Stafford Weiss (Cusack). Havana gets word from her agent that a film is being produced about her mother’s life and naturally Havana feels she is best actress for the role. The film plays out where we learn more about all of the major characters in the film and how weird do things get? Well, this is a Cronenberg film after all……
Based on reviews that I’ve been reading about “Map” this is really a love it or hate it flick. I’ve read that some people are disgusted about the insinuated and pretty much apparent incest connotations, as well as the casual nudity and dark subject matter. This is where I say “grow up!” Sure, some of the content is a little over-the-top, but you’d be a fool to not think things like this happen in Hollywood.
The interwoven plot is interesting and the film is a Chuck Palahniuk, David Lynch, and Bret Easton Ellis mash-up of insane and maniacal proportions. At first I thought this film was actually written by someone of Ellis’ ilk, but upon further inspection the writing duties went to Bruce Wagner, who is best known for writing “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors.” It’s odd for Cronenberg to go with a writer that has so few credits to his name, but the writing is actually very well done, visceral, and perfect for the film.
Now, a lot of people were in love with Julianne Moore’s performance in “Still Alice,” but I would go as far as saying that her turn in “Map” was vastly superior in it’s weirdness and fearlessness. We all know that Moore is a great actress that has been overlooked for awards for years, but wouldn’t it have been nice if she was rewarded for a role that required more than just having an ailment and having to overcome it? I’d say yes, but I’m sure a lot of people would go against me. Outside of Moore, the supporting cast is solid, and it’s good to see that John Cusack is still getting work that matters and not falling into the same trap that has confounded Nicholas Cage for the better part of a decade. I don’t know what it is, but Cage and Cusack to me are almost one in the same. “Map” also shows me more of the talent that I know is residing inside of Robert Pattinson. He had a great turn in “Cosmopolis” and showed me more in last year’s under-appreciated “The Rover” and albeit a small role, he is still good in this film and his scenes with Mia Wasikowska are small, but tragic.
All in all, “Map to the Stars” is an interesting and dark take on celebrity and the toll it can take on those with weak constitutions. While this film does seem more in the wheelhouse of someone like Lynch, it’s great to see David Cronenberg’s take on Hollywood since he is mostly a director who is always on the outside looking in, on his own accord of course. And while I do like that he is taking more chances on projects like “Cosmopolis” and “A Dangerous Method” I would like to see him get back to his older, body horror work one day.
Fun Fact: Hollywood was established in 1853 with a single adobe hut just outside of Los Angeles, California.
Cosmopolis is TOUGH to get through. Cosmopolis is TOUGH to understand. Cosmopolis is TOUGH to review. But ultimately, Cosmopolis is TOUGH to dismiss. The story of a twenty something billionaire asset manager journeying into the city in search of a haircut presents itself as anything but that. This is something that did not bother me initially. At first glance, I thought Cosmopolis would be this generation’s American Psycho. A controversial film that seems to be about one thing, but actually touches on deeper and unexpected subject matter. However, where American Psycho veils its messages to allow them to spring naturally into the viewer’s minds, Cosmopolis beats you over the head with it. This does not necessarily make Cosmopolis a bad film. It is just doing it’s own thing and doesn’t give a damn if people have a TOUGH time getting it.
Here is a drinking game you can play. Take a shot whenever someone in this film answers a question or makes a statement in a drawn out pseudo intellectual/overly metaphorical response. You’ll be passed out drunk before your popcorn is done popping. No one talks to each other the way people do in this film. That criticism should fall mostly on the novel Cosmopolis is based on. A 224 page maniphesto-like tale by Dan DeLillo that must have been an extremely TOUGH enterprise to translate to film.
At the center of this world is Twilight heartthrob Robert Pattinson. If I haven’t stated it before, my opinion on all things Twilight has been…ahem…less than kind. However, for some reason I always thought that Pattinson was the only one of the three leads that could rise up as a true actor if given the right vehicle. Now, the right vehicle to prove one’s acting ability, more often than not, is the risky vehicle. So, kudos should go to Pattinson for taking on a role that all but eliminates his huge built in fan base. Lets be honest. The concepts of a piggy bank would probably be lost on the Teen Beat crowd. Let alone, a film that rambles on incessantly about leveraging exchange rates of the yuan, funny ideas for new monetary units and stock depreciation for two hours. Suffice to say, Pattinson is actually pretty good here. So good that director David Cronenberg has cast him again in his next film. The role of Eric Packer could have easily gone to Leo. However, we would still see some warmth behind those eyes no matter how cold he’d play it. Pattinson, on the other hand, can do cold. His New York accented stoic delivery is perfect for Eric Packer, just as Bale’s almost infomercial style manner of speaking was perfect for Patrick Bateman. In both cases, you don’t know what either character will say or do next.
I’ve grown to appreciate David Cronenberg. His always peculiar framing. His “don’t look away” tension building long takes. But more famously, his knack for inserting into rather normal scenes amazingly visceral moments of sex and/or violence, then moving on as though nothing has happened. It worked well in The Fly and History of Violence and Eastern Promises. However, it feels somewhat out of place here. But everything feels out of place in Cosmopolis. There is this feeling throughout that something is off. If the argument is that this is on purpose, then mission accomplished. But it still lends to the point that the film isn’t an easy sit.
Some critics have labeled Cosmopolis as pretentious. And it may very well be. Though, I get the feeling that five or six years from now, it will become a cult success just like American Psycho did. Put on a suit…get a haircut…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.