In Los Angeles, Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack) is an analyst and coach, who has made a good living from writing self-help manuals. One of his clients, Havana (Julianne Moore) is an actress who dreams of filming a remake of the movie that made her mother, Clarice, a star. Havana has haunting visions of her mother at night and is quite disturbed. Weiss' son Benjie, a 13-year-old actor, has already been in rehab, and his daughter Agatha (Mia Wasikowka) has just been released from a santitorium where she was treated for criminal pyromania.

4

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2014: Fans of possibly meaningless statistics should note that 3 out of the 18 films in Competition in Cannes this May were Canadian and two of them won prizes: Xavier Dolan shared the Jury Prize (with Jean-Luc Godard's zippy 3D confection Goodbye to Language) for Mommy and Julianne Moore won the Best Actress award for her delectable performance as a minor Hollywood celeb with major problems in David Cronenberg's Maps to the Stars.

The third Canadian entry was Atom Egoyan's The Captive. We all know that motion pictures don't have feelings, but The Captive was so ill-received, at least by most English-speakers, that it seemed as if critics were out to make the movie itself feel bad.

Speaking of feeling bad, Havana Segrand (Moore) isn't feeling good when we meet her. Her career is badly in need of a boost – say one no more powerful than the Saturn rocket that helped hoist the Apollo modules into space – and it looks as if she's too old to play the role her own late mother played in the upcoming remake of one of mum's films.

Most of us would say that Havana is still a very attractive individual – at least on the outside. But not staying young forever is a punishable offence for women in Hollywood and Havana is as jittery as if she'd actually murdered somebody to get a part, instead of just fantasising about it.

Havana can maintain yoga poses and drink herbal tea all the livelong day but we suspect that centred calm, let alone self-actualisation, shall forever elude her. Just because you have a swimming pool doesn't mean things are going swimmingly. Bummer.

Havana is just one character in an ensemble cast whose members range from pre-adolescent to senior citizen. Each actor has been chosen with care and the cumulative effect is of a strange planet you can't take your eyes off of but would not want to inhabit in the proverbial million years.

The thing is, if you're like, totally superficial and you look around and everybody else is, like, totally superficial, then who can blame you for concluding that superficial is the new deep? You! Yes you – the person reading this: I love your shoes!

There is no, repeat no doubt that Cronenberg finds the denizens who populate this dark comedy so objectionable that if something bad befalls them, well, gee, we needn't get all broken up about it or anything. It's a satire, folks, but since the script was penned by native son Bruce Wagner, it's probably terrifyingly close to the way at least some celebrities, would-be celebrities or former celebrities handle the nuttiness of fame or the lack thereof.

The film's title refers to the maps hawked to tourists but Cronenberg's camera inherently knows the best spots from which to observe the hollowest and most craven walking components of Hollywood.

You! Yes you – the person reading this. I can't taste what you're eating but you simply must give me the recipe. You're looking fabulous. Air kiss!

Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) is back in town after years elsewhere and a few of the people who seem to know her are really, really unhappy to hear that. Gosh, whatever could she have done to create such deep-seated lasting animosity?  Whatever it was, it's in the past, right? Uh, maybe not.

After a lift into town from limo driver and aspiring actor and screenwriter Jerome Fontana (Robert Pattinson, amusingly cast), Agatha manages to quickly land a job as personal assistant to Havana Segrand.

Now and again it's not what you know but who you know. But as what we as viewers don't know gradually becomes clear, one has to summon a way to make a gleeful grin co-exist with the trip one's jaw may be making toward the floor.

People worldwide tend to think Hollywood's major product is motion pictures, but it may actually be hypocrisy garnished with feigned enthusiasm.  When two women who hate each other's guts happen to meet on the sidewalk, even the shrubbery seems to cringe as they outdo each other with obsequious patter and gushing compliments.

At least as grown-ups they know how to pretend to be polite.

Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird, splendidly creepy) the 13-year-old star of the wildly successful "Bad Babysitter" movie franchise, is fresh out of rehab but foul-mouthed in situations where he knows he can get away with it because they need him to continue minting money.

Benjie's dad, Stafford (John Cusack) is a masseuse-cum-therapist to the stars and also a huckster-cum-coach to the masses via televised infomercials that would make anybody not paralysed by Botox cringe.

Which brings us to the idea that while Maps to the Stars is set in Hollywood, insecurities, fawning, back-stabbing, etc. are certainly not unknown in academia or on Wall Street or in Silicon Valley or anywhere else that strong personalities and weak personalities feel compelled to measure their self-worth on a pathetically skewed scale of values.

You! Ohmigod – aren't you the person reading this? I knew I recognised you. I just love the way you read!

You can totally see the movie now. My friend who's really well connected in LA tells me that if you see it in a theatre it'll help you lose weight. And I heard that if you watch it on TV it'll make your skin softer.  Awesome, huh?

 

Watch 'Maps to the Stars'

Friday 18 September, 12:40am on SBS VICELAND

MA15+
USA, 2014
Genre: Drama
Language: English
Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, Robert Pattinson, Evan Bird

Now streaming at SBS On Demand:

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