It’s not often when you see a film put Hollywood directly on the grill without being straight-out satire. While some people called David Cronenberg’s “Maps to the Stars” a satire, it’s not done traditionally with that sense of mind. It’s much more dense here, and seems to be getting the more puzzling “satire-drama” designation, which seems to be the battle of two opposite ends. It takes on the serious problem of some Hollywood families who become stuck in the reality of trying to keep their careers alive and being obsessed with wanting attention.
Yes, the Kardashians seem like the perfect poster children for this warning tale that never seems to be heeded in Tinseltown. The story in “Maps to the Stars” seems to be one of those stories that ends up going round and round, as if those living in Hollywood are firmly stuck in their own “Groundhog Day” hell.
This film tries to figure out why, and the irony behind it is that some of the stars of the film can’t seem to figure out what went wrong compared to the earlier days of Hollywood. Julianne Moore, for instance, has been quoted as saying how much has changed in the town since she first arrived as an actress. She says the obsession with fame is more intense now than it ever has been.
Then you also have brilliant actress Mia Wasikowska who couldn’t be more deliberately anti-Hollywood. Starting out in a very mainstream movie of “Alice in Wonderland,” she’s since taken on a decidedly indie film career as acting fulfillment rather than take on the Hollywood lifestyle. While she lives parts of the time Los Angeles to make films, she’s noted for going back home to her Aussie hometown of Canberra regularly to get back to earth.
It’s a route you wish her character, Agatha Weiss, would take in the film. Unfortunately, Los Angeles is her only sense of home. Being the daughter of manipulative TV psychologist, Dr. Stafford Weiss (played by John Cusack), she has the bad fortune of growing up in Hollywood culture to a point where she knows nothing else. She also develops a pyromania fixation that led to her being placed in a psychiatric clinic for a while.
When these characters and others all collide in Hollywood, you automatically wish the real Hollywood would pay attention to the trap they’re in. “Maps to the Stars” almost plays like a Hollywood version of “One-Hundred Years of Solitude” where the same endemic generation seems to repeat the same situations every generation. In this case, Julianne Moore’s character (Havana Segrand) wants to make a movie about her mother, who was also a legendary movie actress. Visions of her ghost play a huge factor throughout the movie as if the family is trying to exorcize the demons of fame from their souls.
The question is whether those who choose to live in the strange world of Hollywood will really get the message here, or if this interesting movie will become too indie for its own good.
The Influence of Satire
One thing about satire is that it can make stronger points than done as a straight, maudlin drama. That’s always been the secret behind satire’s true potency, even if satire in film has turned much more obscure lately. More obvious comedy is back in vogue in the mainstream, hence making “Maps to the Stars” another obscure gem that won’t get much of an audience.
You can only imagine what the reaction would have been had there been a huge L.A. premiere for the film and significant fanfare. Instead, it had more success at Cannes where the French understood every satire nuance. Julianne Moore even won Best Actress at Cannes for her performance.
In Hollywood, there may be somewhat of a backlash because they’ll realize how reflective it is to reality. That kind of resentment will probably kill it for any Oscar potential, despite Moore and Wasikowska both being deserving of nominations next year. Perhaps the only thing getting to those who live for fame would be something more deliberate, as in a documentary. Satire may be too obscure now to send such strong messages to the people who can learn form it more than those outside Hollywood.
One can only hope that the message of getting out of the Tinseltown glass cage and finding sanctuary somewhere else will be adhered to. In that regard, Wasikowska’s life may be one to imitate, just as she gives the imitation of a rare character that fits far too many 20-something personas in Los Angeles.