ANIMAL will be bringing you continuing coverage from The New York Film Festival which runs Sep 26 – Oct 12 at Film Society of Lincoln Center. Maps To The Stars plays Saturday, September 27th at 9:00pm and Sunday, September 28th on 3:00pm.
Beyond its trappings as a grim Hollywood satire, David Cronenberg’s latest is about bad therapy. It begins with campy caricatures of a high-strung, expiring actress Havana (Julianne Moore) and a high-maintenance, pill-addicted child actor Benjie (Evan Bird), which had the press screening crowd guffawing. The laughs persist, as Havana screams about being sexually abused by her mother (half-naked in a highly questionable therapy setting) and Benjie tells his handler/agent to show him his “cunt” (the “faggot Jew”). The laughs tapper off a bit as we proceed deeper into a tale of shitty people, tied up in some mythically bad twists of fate.
All the characters are sick, that is, they are all processing trauma in all the wrong ways, trauma that manifests itself as ghosts inserted into the plot in deliberately artificial ways. There’s only one person who isn’t completely disturbed — Jerome (Robert Pattinson), the limousine driver and struggling actor/writer who is, naturally, writing a script about all this. The character is softly modeled after former Hollywood chauffeur Bruce Wagner, who wrote the screenplay and swears to its authenticity.
Benji’s estranged, scarred, mentally ill sister Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) is also writing a script. Naturally. Something about their parents, something that explains why she tried to drug Benji and burn the house down and why performing “wedding” ceremonies with her little brother would make the ghosts go away. The ugly layers of meta stack nicely.
The ugliest person of all is Agatha’s father, the celebrity therapist Stafford Weiss (John Cusack). This is the absolutely worst person to have as a therapist. You know this before he mounts the underwear-clad Havana, wrings her hands behind her back and has her screaming at her mother’s sadistic ghost, all the while fishing for confirmation that her new personal assistant is Agatha.
Weiss says “secret kill,” alluding to the ending — not prophetically, but in a way that a narcissist who sees his walls of denial crumble around him and feels his deeply-hidden secrets seeping to the surface. This shit just doesn’t go away. Reunited, Benji and Agatha come face to face with the tragedy of their existence. Everybody snaps. Everything explodes.
Cronenberg does well delivering this impossibly Greek drama in a way that’s somehow both deadpan and exaggerated, and everyone takes so many pills — against psychosis, against life, for fun, for “sleep” — it makes sense. Sort of. It’s all incredibly ridiculous. Not quite “The Aristocrats!” meets Shakespeare, but… if you’re laughing by the end, that’s good.
CHEAT SHEET: If you don’t manage to get tickets to the NYFF and you need to talk about it in conversation, here’s what to say:
–“There is no body horror in this.”
–“LOL, Julianne Moore wiping herself off after fucking in the car, LOLOLOLOL.”