Working from a twenty-year old script by Bruce Wagner, which hasn’t aged one bit, Cronenberg’s corrosive film about the Hollywood mythos easily outstrips such films as Sunset Boulevard, The Big Knife, Day of the Locust, and other critical examinations of the American movie capital. For Maps to The Stars isn’t a satire at all, or a dark comedy – a melodrama, perhaps, but firmly rooted in fact. As Bruce Wagner noted in several interviews, “Hollywood [Wagner's home town] is so much a part of me. The thought of writing a straight satire about Hollywood – I would reach for my revolver, as they say . . .
I don’t see this as satirical. I see it simply as a melodrama that’s closer to August Strindberg or Joe Orton than it is to anything like The Player (1992) or Mulholland Drive (2001). David [Cronenberg] and I thought we were making our Sunset Blvd. (1950), in a way. The original script [of Sunset Boulevard] began with a scene of cadavers in a morgue talking about how they had died, how they had come to our demise. Our script is filled with ghosts as well . . .
I don’t see anything in Maps to the Stars that’s an exaggeration in order to expose a truth. It’s more realism than anything else. It’s is a fever dream, it’s a melodrama, I don’t see it as a satire. The default is to call anything that makes one uncomfortable and in which someone may laugh something satirical or quote ‘dark’. I’ve been hit with that label all my life. I don’t believe in only darkness; I’m not interested. I’m interested in the poles: Darkness and light. Extreme poverty and extreme wealth. Extreme fame, anonymity. The sacred and the profane. Without the profane, I’m not interested. Without the sacred, I’m not interested.”
The cast members are uniformly excellent; Julianne Moore (above) won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival in 2014 for her work in the film, and Cronenberg was nominated for the Palme d’Or; John Cusack is suitably repellent as a new age “self fulfillment” guru whose entire life is a sham; and Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson, and Evan Bird – Bird is especially effectively as an absolutely hateful child star, already over the hill at 13 – are all utterly compelling in their roles. The entire film is so immaculately shot, edited, and scored (by the gifted Howard Shore) that I watched it straight through twice back to back, and it seemed to move even faster the second time than the first.
The reviews have been all over the place, from outright pans to critical raves, but those who dismiss the film, or who try to pigeonhole it as “satire” have never really lived in Hollywood, and don’t know how it works. This is a town that is ruled by franchises, in which selfishness and greed are necessary commodities if one wants to get ahead, a place where every conceivable human character flaw is exploited for gain or momentary advantage.
With echoes of Jean Cocteau and Paul Eluard in its script – which fit in here beautifully – Maps to the Stars is that rare thing; a film about the industry that tells the truth about a system that destroys people and then spits them out. Perhaps that’s why it’s been so ignored by Academy – what am I saying? of course it is! - and why the film is more or less being dumped in VOD slots rather than in mainstream theaters. But don’t let that stop you.