MAPS TO THE STARS (2014, David Cronenberg)
Heavy-handed and tone-deaf, it’s no surprise to see that Bruce Wagner, the screenwriter on MAPS TO THE STARS, has no decent credits on his resume. But it is a surprise to see that veteran Cronenberg, now 71 and wildly experienced, would helm a movie this poorly put-together. Although he’s never been a big-budget guy (his masterpiece THE FLY takes places almost exclusively in one loft, and his early horror films indulged in cheap thrills), MAPS feels almost senile with its coverage.
In an early scene, teenage celebutard Benjie (played by Evan Bird in an embarrassingly stiff and awkward performance) is visiting a dying girl in a hospital, and Cronenberg uses only two setups for the exchange — an ISO on her, and a two-shot of Benjie and his lackey — but when a reaction causes Benjie to cast a glance at the lackey, Cronenberg stays on the medium the entire time. What, did he have like an hour at that location to get the scene finished? Try a couple more angles, please. Then later there’s a nightclub sequence that mingles several of the main characters together, but you never get the sense of the space or when he’s cutting between stories. The compositions are lax and overly economical, and the result is a totally confused piece of filmmaking. It’s really sad to see a guy of Cronenberg’s caliber settle for coverage like this, and even though he’s never been Scorsese with his camera movement, at least his previous films got the most out of their economy. If there’s an aesthetic justification for direction this weak, it would be quite a reach.
And the material itself… ugh, not that we needed another movie to point out that Hollywood is incestuous and self-cannibalizing, but it still could have been done with more nuance. Julianne Moore is exceptionally good as usual, but when paired with her THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT co-star Mia Wasikowska, she can’t rescue a botched tone. One scene has the two of them dancing around celebrating the death of the son of Moore’s rival, and it’s clear Cronenberg intends it to be a chilling, mean-spirited sequence, but it just comes off dopey, unfunny, and a watered down attempt. John Cusack is amusing but wants to be in a different, funnier movie — while Olivia Williams is given the short shrift as his wife. It’s possible Cronenberg can still make another good film at this age (his last really successful one was 2005’s A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE), but he will need a lot of help with the material.