The girl wears elbow-length gloves and hair that hides other burn scars from her face. She’s made her way to Hollywood by bus, but knows enough to hire a limo to get around town.
Within days she’s found a job as an actress’s personal assistant — thanks to being Twitter pal of Carrie Fisher — and a boyfriend who happens to be the limo driver, but also an actor. Or actor-screenwriter.
She (Mia Wasikowska) seems a little off, knowing but naive, so the beau (Robert Pattinson) is on the mark when he says, “Look, Agatha, I think you’re a little crazy.”
But so is another Hollywood insider who sees her and sizes her up. “For a disfigured schizophrenic, you’ve got the town pretty wired.”
“Maps to the Stars” is Hollywood outsider David Cronenberg’s twisted take on Hollywood and Hollywood “types,” a depraved and despairing look at the damaged goods that make their way from the rest of the world into show business. This unblinking yet unsatisfying ensemble drama features kinky sex, ruthless opportunism, violence and psychosis. Very Cronenberg.
There’s a needier than needy actress, played by freshly-minted Oscar winner Julianne Moore. Havana is doing some seriously sick therapy to prep her for the role she hopes she was born to play — as her incestuous, child-abusing mother, a “cult figure” starlet (Sarah Gadon, seen in flashback) who died decades ago.
The town’s hot shrink/guru is played by John Cusack, who is treating Havana and married to brittle, broken stage mom Christina (Olivia Williams). He’s trying to keep his latest book tour on track as their cruel child star son (Evan Bird) attempts to salvage his career by making a sequel to the movie that made him. All Benjie has to do is stay sober (he’s 13), stay out of the tabloids and not kill the younger, cuter co-star who upstages him in every scene.
Writer Bruce Wagner, whose screen credits go back beyond “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3,” swirls these types into a toxic cocktail of dysfunction, desire, ambition and glib one-liners, a tale of incest in a hierarchy where that could be seen as a canny career move.
Cusack’s Dr. Feelgood About Yourself has many of the best lines — “If we can name it, we can tame it…No one escapes the long arm of Twelve Step.”
Moore makes Havana believably high mileage and high maintenance in a performance that is raw and manic. Her skimpy wardrobe gives away Havana’s desperation, a weepy, aging wannabe willing to dive into a threesome to close the big deal. Williams turns Christina into a shattered, guilt-ridden apologist for the monster-child she created, Bird does well in playing an ulfiltered Bieberesque creep.
The acting is generally better than the broad satiric and pervy points Cronenberg (“A History of Violence”) and Wagner want to make, though Wasikowska and Pattinson barely register, a bland protagonist who instigates all that follows (Agatha connects to one and all) and her bland reactor/suitor.
The take-away here is the sangfroid it takes to hide your schadenfreude, the fake smiles when you run into a hated rival who just won a role you covet, the power games that play out in Cronenberg’s trademark sexual ways. That’s not exactly fresh ground.
So for all the biting scenes that show Youngest Hollywood’s drinking and mating rituals (sophisticated insults, juvenile indiscretions, drugs, guns), all the sharp observations about the souls that are sold for fame and the false prophets that the Walking Soul-Dead follow, the director and screenwriter lose their way in the clutter, “Maps” or no maps.
MPAA Rating: R for strong disturbing violence and sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some drug material
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Julianne Moore, Evan Bird, John Cusack, Robert Pattinson, Olivia Williams
Credits: Directed by David Cronenberg, written by Bruce Wagner. A Focus/eOne release.
Running time: 1:51