There can’t be a more self-aware director working today than David Cronenberg, who’s been hearing the same questions about his work for the last 30 years. Rather than dwell on past glories, however, Cronenberg is always looking for ways to modernise and expand his style, which explains all his work since the last truly Cronerbergian film, 1999’s Matrix-style sci-fi eXistenz. Maps To The Stars is among the best of those films, adapting a script by Bruce Wagner that at once offers a very funny critique of modern-day LA life while being a very creepy story about family secrets, egos, insanity, and, most chilling of all, destiny.
The nominal lead is Mia Waskowska as Agatha, a bird-like blond with mysterious scars who arrives LA is a state of excitement, much like Naomi Watts in David Lynch’s broadly similar Mulholland Drive. She finds a limo driver (Robert Pattison), and offers him a large sum of cash to drive her round the homes of the stars in Beverly Hills. In parallel, two more stories unravel. One is that of fading actress Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), whose mind is slowly unravelling; Segrand is tortured by visions of her dead mother, once a huge star, and dreams of playing her in a movie. At the other end of the spectrum we have the newly stellar Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird), a bratty child star whose self-help guru father Stafford (John Cusack) employs unusual means to help Havana face her fears.
Agatha, with her murky past, is the glue that binds these stories, but Cronenberg handles them all equally deftly. Special praise must go to Moore, who is exceptional as the fragile Segrand, an emotional fruit loop but sympathetic despite her neediness. Bird, meanwhile, is just extraordinary, a vicious moppet whose cruelty is the most explicit in the movie: having long abandoned physical mutations, Cronenberg posits the Hollywood mindset as a microcosm of the people we've turned into, our obsession with celebrity and status.
Some may find the ending abrupt and somewhat underwhelming, but Maps To The Stars is a Cronenberg film that uses stealth and skill to get under your skin and into your bloodstream in the way only his best ones do.