THE GUARDIAN: David Cronenberg’s new film here at Cannes 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 millimetre. It is a further refinement of this director’s gifts for body horror and satire. […] The film is populated by a macabre gallery of Hollywood addicts: high-functioning lost souls at various levels of the totem pole. MORE
THE TELEGRAPH: A thin, young woman is curled up on the seat of a Greyhound bus on its way to Hollywood, as many thin, young women have done before her. She hugs her knees and pulls a thick black jacket around her shoulders. There’s a logo on it for a television show: ‘Bad Babysitter’. We also glimpse some kind of scarring on her neck. She looks vulnerable, but also somehow dangerous. Is she ready for what this town can do to a girl? And, more to the point: is this town ready for what this particular girl can do? This is how David Cronenberg beguiles you into his extraordinary new film, Maps to the Stars, which spits poison in the faces of its Cannes competition rivals. It’s the Canadian director’s best film at least since Spider, in 2002, and could conceivably lead to his first Palme d’Or. 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. MORE
INDIE WIRE: Based on the novel by Bruce Wagner (who also wrote the script), the film opens with the arrival of Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) back in Los Angeles after a long period away. Disfigured by burns from long ago (partially hidden by her ever-present elbow-length gloves, like an emo Holly Golightly), she tells limo driver Jerome (Robert Pattinson – behave yourself, comments section) that she’s there to visit family, but shows little sign of actually doing so, instead getting a job as the PA (or ‘chore whore,’ as the film charmingly puts it) for fading movie star Havana (Julianne Moore).
Havana is the daughter of a drug-addled star who died young (Sarah Gadon), and is in the process of pursuing the role of her mom in a new remake of the film that made her name. She’s also a client of self-help guru/therapist/masseur Stafford Weiss, whose wife Christina (Olivia Williams) manages the interest of their bratty, Bieberish 13-year-old son Benjie, star of the $800 million-grossing “Bad Babysitter.” Oh, and as becomes clear swiftly, they’re the family that Agatha was speaking of, and they have no interest in seeing her. MORE
HIT FIX: “Cosmopolis” did not work for me, though, and I think part of it is that the material is so internal. I would imagine there was some element of a dare involved for Cronenberg, tackling a book as film-unfriendly as “Cosmopolis” and trying to conquer it, but even landing at the moment it did, with people feeling the anti-banking sentiment more than ever before, it still felt like a movie that muddled its message, and the jump to digital photography didn’t do the director any favors. It was a genuinely ugly movie, and not on a thematic level, but just in terms of being able to express a visual idea.
“Maps To The Stars” has some of the same issues that “Cosmopolis” did, and at this point, I feel like some of the blame has to fall on Peter Suschitzky, whose work on films like “Crash,” “Dead Ringers” and “The Empire Strikes Back” is above reproach. I don’t get it. I look at these images in this film, and I can’t imagine this is what anyone had in mind. Not Cronenberg. Not Suschitzky. Not screenwriter Bruce Wagner. It is flat and aesthetically dull, and there is nothing about it that evokes Los Angeles. Not the LA of the wealthy, not the LA of the poor, not the LA of the broken dreamers.
Wagner has made a healthy career for himself by savaging Los Angeles and its denizens in print. He grew up in LA, but not to famous parents. He worked on the fringes of the business in bookstores and driving a limousine, and he spent much of his time in his 20s writing unproduced films. That eventually led him to writing stories about the hollow men and women of Hollywood, and books like “Force Majeure,” “I’m Losing You,” and “Still Holding” have an authentic if surreal voice, a real understanding of the currency of power in and around the industry. Wagner seems particularly fascinated by the characters on the fringe, the people who are drawn to LA by all of its promise, only to linger here, rotting without even realizing they’re already dead. There is a powerfully bitter streak to his work, which seems completely earned, and I hoped he and Cronenberg would prove to be a potent pairing. MORE