Film Review: Map to the Stars (★★★½)

maps_to_the_stars_ver3(This review was previously posted in September 2014 during the New York Film Festival.)

Probably the weirdest monster you’ll come across, David Cronenberg‘s Map to the Stars is an odd animal full of wit, charm, and pure entertainment value.  Definitely not for the faint of heart, but for those who love rich and layered characters, Cronenberg takes on Hollywood with zeal and humor.  Some may classify the attempt as “mean,” but no different from what Martin Scorsese brought to the table with The Wolf of Wall Street, a black comedy with a much deeper message is fully on display.  It’s one of Cronenberg’s most innovative.

Bruce Wagner‘s script is a masterclass of writing.  He finds all unique characters within our social existences and assembles them with stunning resolve.  It’s hard to believe the guy who wrote “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors” could be capable of such a feat.  We also get a subtle score by Howard Shore and stunning contemporary costumes by Denise Cronenberg.  Not since The Devil Wears Prada has fashion felt like a separate character piece on a contemporary film set.

With no short of brilliance, the entire cast ignites some of their finest and most compelling works of their careers.  It starts obviously with another powerhouse turn by Academy Award winner Julianne Moore.  As “Havana Segrand,” an actress dying for a big comeback, Moore illustrates her most vibrant and fruitful interpretation since “Cathy Whitaker” in Far from Heaven.  Ferocious, daring, and completely involved, there’s no other actress like Moore on this cinematic planet.  Too good for words.  You’ll be thrown back to something like Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights as a comparison of excellence.

Everything seemed to finally click for actress Mia Wasikowska in her most daring performance to date.  A ticking time bomb of emotions, her interpretation of “Agatha” is damn near close to perfection.  Robert Pattinson leaves all his “Twilight” days behind him and continues to evolve as a true performer.  Though his role called for a bit more than what he was given.  Cronenberg obviously knows what the heartthrob is capable of as he continues to use him frequently.

juliannemoore-maptothestarsJohn Cusack and Olivia Williams are a match made in cinema hell (a compliment I promise).  Two people who are despicable together, the pair play insanely well off each other, showcasing luscious movements that all ring true.  The young Evan Bird will have all of us learning his name by end credits.  Lots of child stars make soft transitions in upbeat films like Little Miss Sunshine and Whale Rider.   This is a brave and charismatic performance, channeling the aura of Justin Bieber (fortunately not the personality) but with tenacity as such performers as Ryan Gosling.

There are some tough pills to swallow during the viewing.  There’s incest, murder, “mean girl,” moments, children dying which has characters happy to see it, it just doesn’t seem to end.  However, you will be entranced and placed under its spell from moment one.  Cronenberg takes on subjects like violence and family with assurance.  He’s displayed this ability many times over in his filmmography.  Map to the Stars stands tall with all the director’s previous efforts.

Map to the Stars is not coy and completely confident in its demeanor.  A well orchestrated and symbolic film that stands as one of the year’s best films.  This is Cronenberg’s best effort since A History of Violence.  An insightful piece that everyone should seek.

The film is distributed by Focus World and is available on VOD.