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article imageTIFF: Cronenberg's Maps to the Stars disappoints on many levels

By David Silverberg     Sep 5, 2014 in Entertainment
Toronto - Canadian director David Cronenberg's Maps to the Stars, debuting at Toronto International Film Festival, dissects the ego behind Hollywood royalty, but overacting, and an uneven narrative, mar what could have been a great film.
At first blush, Maps to the Stars — debuting at the Toronto International Film Festival — has an intriguing premise: Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore) works as an insecure middle-aged actress hoping to land the lead in a remake of a film her mother starred in years ago. She reveals her fears and childhood trauma to her therapist, Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), a TV psychologist and self-help guru with a stable of celebrity clients. But Weiss has problems of his own, such as a teenaged movie-megastar son whose career is already threatened by his out-of-control ego and drug problems.
Enter Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), Weiss's daughter who gets hired as Havana's assistant, who has been excommunicated from her family since she started a fire years ago that almost killed her brother Benji, now a hot young movie star.
Cronenberg attempts to place Hollywood excess under a microscope by letting the actors spout the usual cliches of the exorbitantly spoiled: Segrand orders her assistant to buy her dozens of prescription pills to control her spiraling anxiety; Dr. Weiss only cares about his book tour even when his son faces a critical emergency; and everyone is an actor-in-waiting, even Jerome (Robert Pattinson), a limo driver who falls for Agatha.
The way the film portrays Hollywood feels inauthentic. It could be the consistent selfishness or the vulgarity, but it all feels too homogenized. Overacting also mars the film, such as Moore's super-pained expressions. It's as if the film really wants to bang us on the head with the idea that ego reigns supreme. Yes, we get it, so are you saying something new here, Cronenberg?
What truly hurts the film is the implausible themes later emerging in the narrative, such as the appearance of creepy ghosts. It's one big WTF. The ending is especially shocking, but not in the sharp way that leaves you breathless. Instead, the viewer is confused, wanting more clarification, or at least more authenticity and honesty. The ending feels rushed, as if the writers wanted to end this debacle already.
More about David Cronenberg, Film, maps to the stars, Tiff, Toronto international film festival
 
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