Saturday, March 7, 2015

Maps to the Stars (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Maps to the Stars

Fans of David Cronenberg (Cosmopolis) will notice some similar terrain straightaway in "Maps to the Stars"  a Nathanael West (Day of the Locust) type black humor tale of a Hollywood gone to the narcissists. While the theme is not new by any means, Cronenberg makes the film his own by giving the characters his trademark spaced-out, yet strangely nervous tone.

We have a child actor Benjie (Evan Bird) who is offensive, aloof and nasty beyond nasty. He holds his head high, crane-like in an imagined heaven, drifting above it all, and a spurned sister Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) who is a victim of a fire and obsessed with Carrie Fisher. She scratches and frets.

To round off the gruesome group, there is  John Cusack as their father Stafford, a self satisfied guru, and Julianne Moore as Havana Segrand, an insecure and jealous actress. None of these people are likable but then again, one doesn't go to a Cronenberg film to see pleasant people.  The fun is in seeing how outrageous they are or how monstrous they become. Here everyone is selfish, manic and bothered by phantoms: literal incarnations of sadness, fear, guilt or the regret of inaction.

Havana is driven by a desire for fame and notoriety, a mediocre actor, she is absorbed by conquering a mother who sexually abused her. The snotty-faced Benjie feels his charm slipping away and wants to stay on top at all cost, to headline every teen movie. At a hospital he visits an ailing girl Cammy (Kiara Glasgo), and the actor vows to do a biopic of her life. Then, in the next instant he leaves without a word and verbally eviscerates his producer with offensive language.

Benjie is visited in his dreams almost every night by Cammy, which drives the boy batty.  Havana too, is driven crazy by the ghost of her incestuous mother which drains the freckles from her face. Enter sister Agatha who wears long dominatrix gloves and is held together by the surrealist poetry of Paul Eluard.

Evan Bird's performance alone gives Damien from "The Omen" a run for the money, not too mention Patty McCormack from "The Bad  Seed," while Julianne Moore is eerily right out of the mind of Roman Polanski, as she scarily sends up her earnest, good girl persona. A bathroom scene is a taboo breaker and a possible nod to Alfred Hitchcock who always wanted to use a toilet in his films and finally got the chance in "Psycho".

While these flattened out, hyperbolic and bizarre types may not be to everyone's taste, it is after all quintessential Cronenberg country,  whose films represent strange realms where the people have odd conditions of the body and mind, and emotions are secondary or minor for no apparent reason.

If nothing else, there is haunting power in Mia Wasikowska's recitation of Eluard's love poem "Liberté" that anchors this mocking tale in a minor key, giving it a kind of sarcastic, yet Shakespearean power:

On any granted flesh
On my friends’ forehead
On every hand held out
I write your name...

This coupled with a last scene of  Benjie and Agatha, as they lie down together (still as brother and sister) makes "Maps to the Stars" a dark and sly poison pen parody of the tween epic "The Fault in Our Stars."

For the awareness of our current age that still spins in a surrealist arc, and its quickness in skewering most trends held sacred in cinema, "Maps to the Stars," despite having the flavor of automatic writing by employing the director's usual  types, still remains daring enough to see.

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