We begin—again!—with the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw, who opens by declaring that David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars “is a gripping and exquisitely horrible movie about contemporary Hollywood—positively vivisectional in its sadism and scorn. It is twisted, twisty, and very far from all the predictable outsider platitudes about celebrity culture. The status-anxiety, fame-vertigo, sexual satiety and that all-encompassing fear of failure which poisons every triumph are displayed here with an icy new connoisseurship, a kind of extremism which faces down the traditional objection that films like this are secretly infatuated with their subject. Every surface has a sickly sheen of anxiety; every face is a mask of pain suppressed to the last millimeter. It is a further refinement of this director’s gifts for body horror and satire.”
“It’s the Canadian director’s best film at least since Spider, in 2002,” declares the Telegraph‘s Robbie Collin. “The screenplay, written by the novelist Bruce Wagner, has a little in common with Robert Altman’s The Player and David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. But Cronenberg’s film takes place in a kind of pharmaceutically heightened hyper-reality of its own: it’s not so much a twisted dream of making it in show-business, as a writhing, hissing, Hollywood waking nightmare.”
For Barbara Scharres, who “once liked and admired” Cronenberg, “it’s as if a Cronenberg imposter directed Maps to the Stars.” Nevertheless, at RogerEbert.com, she presents the most succinct map to Maps:
Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore) is a neurotic, aging actress vying for the role of playing her own mother, a former star, in a new film. Child star Benjie (Evan Bird) is a teen heartthrob with a ruthless stage mother. His father (John Cusack), a vain, driven New Age therapist with a TV show, helps clients locate their “magical child.”
Facially disfigured Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), a new girl in town, hooks up with an actor moonlighting as a limo driver (Robert Pattinson), and gets a job as Havana’s personal assistant thanks to a Hollywood Twitter buddy (Carrie Fisher playing herself). Agatha is concealing a whopper of a secret, and has a mysterious and persistent interest in Benjie’s family. Some of these characters see people from their past who aren’t there.
“How these slitherers interrelate in Maps to the Stars isn’t without its schematic aspects,” writes the Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips, but “Cronenberg achieves a sly mastery of tone.”
“The story is wild, but it’s dragged through the rough patches, when satire rubs up against exaggeration, by three killer performances from Waskikowska, Moore and newcomer Bird,” adds Time Out‘s Dave Calhoun.
“Ever since he arrived on the literary scene in the 1980s with Force Majeure: The Bud Wiggins Stories, Wagner has tried to position himself as the ultimate Hollywood outsider/insider, a sardonic sage who can spill all the secrets but still remain a member of the club,” writes the Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy. “He may know what he’s talking about but he also exaggerates for effect… Cronenberg assumes a distinctly clinical approach to the emotional, social and business shenanigans on display here, a perspective that has brilliantly served some of his overtly psychological, horror and sci-fi pieces but gives this one a brittle and airless feel.”
“Somehow, it’s more interesting to watch dreamers struggling to play stars (check out Pia Zadora in The Lonely Lady for a real Tinseltown takedown) than it is for Oscar nominees to parody the desperate, which is pretty much what Julianne Moore is doing in a fearless performance far more gonzo than the out-of-touch satire that contains it,” finds Variety‘s Peter Debruge. “Wagner’s insiders talk B.O. grosses and backend points, name-drop celebrities and do their best acting when pretending to like the idiot on the other end of any conversation, but they do so in slow-motion. There’s too much air in the room. After whiplash satires such as In the Loop and Extras, where half the jokes blaze by on first viewing, Maps to the Stars fails to reflect the pace at which the town operates.”
Richard Porton for the Daily Beast: “Maps to the Stars’ pungent dialogue and lack of sentimental posturing makes it intermittently entertaining, even though the insiderish swipes at Hollywood (everyone from Garry Marshall and Anne Hathaway to Chuck Lorre and Bernardo Bertolucci are disdainfully name checked) lack the combination of pathos and invective achieved in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950), still the most moving, as well as the funniest, poison pen letter to Hollywood’s culture of narcissism.”
“The appearance of various Dickensian apparitions form the physical manifestation of paranoia,” notes David Jenkins at Little White Lies. “It’s an infuriating movie, and that is possibly the point. It feels like a ten-part TV mini-series which has been inelegantly compressed to feature length. There are so many quote marks littered on to the screen that it’s hard to make finite judgements on elements which may be knowingly bad or just bad bad.”
“It’s not a film that feels very subtle on a first watch,” grants Film 4’s Catherine Bray, “but my sense is actually that repeat viewings will pay dividends.”
“The film doesn’t quite get away with its attempt to reconcile satire with pathos, but it comes perilously close,” writes Lee Marshall in Screen Daily. “It’s a baggy, audacious mix that makes up in brio what it lacks in dramatic coherence. And Cronenberg’s go-to composer, Howard Shore, delivers one of his best scores yet for the dry Canadian maestro, a menacing undertow that picks up on some of the ethnic, New Age sounds of the world it depicts, but shifts them into Clockwork Orange territory.”
As someone who placed Cosmopolis on my best-of-2012 list, I find it hard to read beyond Jason Gorber‘s opening line at Twitch: “For the second film in a row, David Cronenberg has made a stinker.” But I have read on, of course, since that’s what I do. So, for the record, he places the “blame” primarily on the screenplays and on “Peter Sushinksy’s digital photography. The man shot The Empire Strikes Back, and I’m saddened to see that with these last Cronenberg flicks (and the truly appalling-looking After Earth) that this master of line and tonality is making films that look like video-game cut scenes.”
At the Playlist, Oliver Lyttelton lays his cards on the table as well: “Cosmopolis has a few defenders, A Dangerous Method not so much, and while there’s stuff to like in Spider, A History of Violence and Eastern Promises, all felt compromised to some degree or other.” Okay? (I mean, wow.) That said, Maps is “certainly the director’s most twisted, and as a consequence, most deliciously entertaining film, in quite a long while.”
HitFix‘s Drew McWeeney: “I think Maps to the Stars is more entertaining (in a decidedly ghoulish way) than Cosmopolis was, but I think it is just as hobbled, both thematically and dramatically.”
Updates: “If satirically, Maps to the Stars looks like a misfire,” writes Ben Kenigsberg at RogerEbert.com, “my friend Scott Foundas of Variety suggested that the film’s theme was ‘life as a series of endless remakes.’ Indeed, the movie seems built on a series of imitations, particularly when it comes to the subject of children following their parents’ dreams of stardom. One of the most potent motifs finds Julianne Moore’s washed-up actress talking to the much-younger ghost of her mother (Sarah Gadon)—who we’re told won a Golden Globe, the imitation Oscar. This is a secondhand vision of Hollywood, entirely artificial and derived solely from other visions of Hollywood.”
“After making one of the most authentically emotional films of his career with A Dangerous Method, David Cronenberg has begun exploring the world of artificiality,” writes Peter Labuza at the Film Stage. “Cosmopolis, which may end up standing as the director’s best film, explored the idea of capitalism in the digital age by creating a language, a series of green screen windows, and, essentially, a society in which numbers and data trumped any factors that might be described as physical…. Maps to the Stars is, frankly, a complete mess of ideas that feels like an awkward marring of the writer’s own bones to pick (he has many) and trying to find material more suited to the hypnotic powers of this director. The result is something of a fascinating misfire, still shot and edited with the precise authority that has defined Cronenberg’s recent period, but jumbled in the search for narrative control and originality.”
Maps has struck Michał Oleszczyk “as dense, consistently brilliant and very much of a piece with the work of a director I have always admired…. What elevates the movie in the end… is not its apparent heartlessness, but precisely the fact that its central relationship—that between haunted, borderline schizophrenic siblings Bird and Wasikowska—is deeply humane and universally resounding. Part Melville’s Les Enfants Terrible, part innocent killers in the vein of Badlands’ Holly and Kit, they represent the beating heart of vulnerability in a land deprived of compassion.”
For Mike D’Angelo, dispatching to the Dissolve, Maps is “less a Cronenberg movie than un film de Bruce Wagner, the Hollywood satirist responsible for 1989’s dismally unfunny Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills. Reportedly, Maps to the Stars was written around the same time, only now finally making it to the screen; that explains why so many of the jokes feel moldy… Hollywood may be a nest of vacuous vipers, but it deserves a less feeble takedown than this.”
“The movie is as shallow as its characters,” finds the AV Club‘s A.A. Dowd. “Cronenberg’s ‘Hollywood’ is as deliberately artificial as the ‘small-town America’ of his A History of Violence, but to what end? The latter strove to say something mythic about the nature of the national character, whereas Maps to the Stars simply wraps truisms in a blanket of strangeness.” Cronenberg “seems to be channeling David Lynch channeling Richard Kelly—fascinating, maybe, but in most of the wrong ways.”
“Cronenberg’s map doesn’t lead to a satisfying destination in a typical story sense,” grants Jordan Hoffman at Film.com, “but it is a remarkable quest. For a movie that has so many problems, it is one of the more watchable ones.”
It’s “Cronenberg’s return to the monster movie almost thirty years on from the release of The Fly (1986),” argues John Bleasdale at CineVue. “Maps to the Stars knows exactly where it’s going, carefully breaking every rule in the book.”
“While not the director’s canniest piece of filmmaking, it’s unquestionably his angriest, politically motivated achievement,” finds Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn.
For Grantland‘s Wesley Morris, “it’s not quite there as a full comedy. It slips and falls into a conclusion instead of building to one. There are some good (if easy) showbiz jokes. Maps splits the difference between the withering misery of Todd Solondz and Henry Jaglom’s pukey frivolity, but eventually you realize the film’s true subject isn’t the entertainment-industry sleaze—Cronenberg knows we’ve seen that before—but child abuse. The film’s drollery isn’t designed for real laughs. It’s aimed at the rippling trauma of generations of bad parenting. The gags are just collateral damage in a sort of toxic tragedy.”
Updates, 5/21: Nigel Andrews in the Financial Times: “Everyone in Hollywood is psychotic (suggest Wagner/Cronenberg), even the child stars. If you think you knew that already, you’ve seldom had the wisdom served up with such skewy, clever grace.”
“I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about the chilly Maps to the Stars,” writes Alison Willmore at Buzzfeed, “but it’s a consistent entry in Cronenberg’s recent explorations within ruthless industries, from the Russian mafia (Eastern Promises), to the early days of psychoanalysis (A Dangerous Method), to Wall Street (Cosmopolis).”
“While it very much feels like a Cronenbergian endeavor, its pointed critique of a particular empty headed culture ends up feeling like a series of wink-wink potshots, hovering around the level of soap opera as interpreted by V.C. Andrews,” finds Nicholas Bell at Ioncinema.
Updates, 5/23: Todd McCarthy in Film Comment‘s roundtable: “I made a documentary years ago about the history of movies. About Hollywood, basically. And the ones that were made in the early Seventies like Myra Breckenridge and Alex in Wonderland and a few others were the ones that were the most cynical and the most negative—understandably, perhaps, for that moment. And the ones that are the best are the ones that are mixed. In other words, the ones that can really use a scalpel, like The Bad and the Beautiful and Sunset Boulevard, and yet acknowledge what the allure and the value is about the place, too. And so I find a mixed, more complex film infinitely more rewarding than something that’s just taken a shotgun to the whole situation. That doesn’t tell me anything. I mean, it has its moments, the Justin Bieber stuff is hilarious, Julianne Moore is very out there in a wild performance, and there are some good lines here and there. Cronenberg is certainly talented, but I do find the whole approach pretty useless at this point.”
“Night of the Hunter meets Sunset Blvd,” suggests Marie-Pierre Duhamel in the Notebook. “Cronenberg’s hand in directing is to be enjoyed at every moment, slowly but surely building a relationship with the history of cinema and with contemporary ‘non-reality’ (again, life as storytelling), that cannot but connect with an idea of liberty as a last frontier. What this ‘liberty’ can be about beyond suicide is the only real issue of the film.”
“I’m still not completely sure what I think of this sometimes-smart, sometimes-arch ultra-black comedy about shallow Hollywood types,” writes the Voice‘s Stephanie Zacharek. “But one thing’s for sure: Julianne Moore is a knockout in it.” And Xan Brooks talks with her for the Guardian.
In the Independent, Geoffrey Macnab finds Maps “overwrought but utterly fascinating.”
“In addition to ghosts, incest, strangulation and a tantric three-way, the movie zings with some of the raunchiest, most knowing dialogue since the almighty Heathers a quarter-century ago,” writes Time‘s Richard Corliss. “Oddly, Cronenberg’s staging of this delirious material is a little pokey, but worth sitting through for the sheer transgressive jolt.”
Update, 5/24: “When Maps to the Stars gets most interesting, it is close in spirit to Rivette,” writes Miriam Bale in the Notebook. “It is a fairy tale and very mythological (so gruesome, of course), and is not only about life as performance, but about something stranger and deeper. No one owns their own dialogue in Maps to the Stars. Lines are shared and repeated in some sort of weird whirl of tone and meaning.”
Updates, 6/2: “David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars is in many ways a quintessential Cannes film,” suggests Jordan Cronk at Reverse Shot. “At a glance an outrageous send-up of Hollywood artificiality and indulgent celebrity lifestyles, it is, from another vantage, an indictment of our age of technology-enhanced entitlement and the commodification of identity. It’s star-studded event movie and subversive art-house film all at once. It simultaneously fulfills and deflates the inherent contradictions of glamorous film festivals such as Cannes, and does so with a gloriously macabre sense of humor.”
“Already misunderstood as démodé showbiz satire, [Maps] plays stronger as a volatile comic nightmare of Hollywood ego, insecurity, and starfucking despair,” writes Aaron Hillis, dispatching to Filmmaker.