When it was announced that Bruce Wagner‘s screenplay “Maps to the Stars” would be directed by horror – thriller master David Cronenberg, I seriously expected to see Satan as one of the film’s producers in the credits.
Ya see, Wagner’s novels deconstruct modern pop culture trends and the debauchery of Hollywood insiders and American society in general. Wagner always pushes the transgressive envelope to the max, and in the current era of politically correct writing, Wagner makes the satirical works of Bret Easton Ellis and Chuck Palahunik seem tame. That’s saying something.
But when one writes a meta-script about Hollywood and its vapid, empty characters, watching such subject matter, instead of reading it, can be a banal experience.
Even though Maps to the Stars sports a talented cast: Julianne Moore, Edward from Twilight, John Cusack, Mia Wasikowska and Evan Bird, the film’s numerous storylines never cool into Jell-O and the film eventually becomes exhaustive by its need to express its brooding nihilism. Honestly, Maps to the Stars is as bipolar as Carrie Fisher on the set of the Return of the Jedi, in fact, Carrie Fisher even has a cameo as Carrie Fisher. How meta-chic, right?
Cronenberg directs with an eerie detachment from his film’s main characters, gliding through scenes like a ghost, but when actual ghosts are introduced into the story, haunting poor Julianne Moore and Evan Bird, the aesthetic implodes on itself, losing its desired effect.
Another problem with movies about insider Hollywood is the exorbitant amount of dialogue, and when said dialogue is concerned with such “grievous” subjects as Xanax, laxatives, the catering table, new age massage therapy and rehab; it’s unavoidable that the dialogue starts to sound melodramatic.
Moore (always naked, always classy) handles her lengthy monologues like a Shakespearean actress in the prime of her career, and her impression of a mid-century old Lindsay Lohan should haunt Blo-han’s dreams. Take notes, Lindsay, take notes.
The script, by Wagner’s standards, or my standard for Wagner, isn’t nearly as dangerous as the lines you would find in one of his novels. Instead of being cranked to 11, Wagner seems to be functioning at a tepid 6 or 7.
As scenes reach their dramatic climax, in particular, one scene involving a drugged out group of teens playing with a pistol; we anticipate a horrific payoff, something diabolical, pure evil. What we get is comical and totally lame. Could the studio have wanted a rewrite, demanding a more character friendly scene? It certainly feels that way, but it neuters Wagner’s script and voice as a writer.
Maps to the Stars has the potential to find a cult audience, and its black comedy (when it’s working) will cause a cackle or two, but this cold, cautionary tale about the proverbial “evils” of Hollyweird isn’t enough to keep me from still wanting that 4200 square foot smart-home on Mulholland Drive.
Heineken?! Fuck that shit!
About Bryan Kish
Bryan Kish writes reviews and articles for NID Magazine.