Maps To The Stars, the latest from director David Cronenberg, goes into wide release tomorrow. I’m here to tell you to avoid it at all costs.
Unless you’re a masochist and into that sort of thing.
There’s a scene towards the end where one character bludgeons another character with a blunt object over, and over, and over, and over again. That’s how I felt sitting there for the film’s hour and 52 minute running time.
Cronenberg is a director whose work I have really enjoyed in the past. I think he’s great at creating an atmosphere that really pulls you into the setting of his films. There are some, I’m sure, who are willing to give the director the benefit of the doubt that the final product with Maps To The Stars is intentionally off-putting, or some sort of high art comment on life in Los Angeles. The problem is, there’s only one comment in the whole film, and Cronenberg hits you over the head with it constantly.
Working off of a script by Bruce Wagner, the film paints a picture of a city so vapid, so self-absorbed, so grotesque and incestual that people are willing to do horrifying things to themselves and others just to escape it. The problem is, he makes that point within a few minutes. He then spends the rest of the film repeating this point, on a loop, with ever-escalating examples. It was a numbing- and punishing- experience.
You’ve got mothers raping daughters, teenage girls setting themselves on fire, boys shooting dogs, horrible parents banishing their children, friends betraying friends, sleazy Hollywood types doing exceedingly sleazy things, and every single character is a two-faced liar. Those elements would all be tolerable if we, the audience, had a way in to the story- A character we could use as a cipher to view all of this disgusting behavior; someone to root for, or at least to understand. But the film has no central character, and none of the people we meet in the film are redeemable in any tangible way. So you basically sit there for nearly two hours watching people behaving badly, with nothing to invest in.
Watching people behaving badly can be fun, of course. But the film has no sense of fun. There are a few cynical jokes tossed in that mostly land with a thud. There’s hardly any music or score to speak of. So without a riveting protagonist to go on this journey with, there’s really nothing to sink your teeth into.
With every scene, with every awkwardly evil act committed, and every downward turn of the plot, I just kept thinking, “I get it all ready! You hate this culture and these kinds of people. What else do you have to say?” But that truly seemed to be all Wagner and Cronenberg had on their mind.
In terms of performances, the only one really worth pointing out is Julianne Moore. She makes the most of her awful character, and shows the most colors. But at this point, we know that all ready. Moore is great.
When The Wolf of Wall Street came out, I remember discussing the film with people that didn’t like it. One of the main arguments was that the lead character’s actions were so reprehensible, and that the atrocities that his industry committed against the middle class were so terrible that they didn’t like being “asked to root” for him. My counter-argument was that Scorsese really wasn’t asking you to relate. He was showing you, “Hey, this is how it was. This is how these people lived. This happened. Can you believe this?” In a way, I’m sure you could say the same about Maps To The Stars. However, where Wolf at least had the sense to make the outrageous proceedings it depicted fun and head-shakingly wild, Cronenberg’s Maps has no pulse; no fun; no joy. Say what you will about DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort, but he at least had a great time, and he made that contagious. Everyone in Maps basically hates everyone and everything around them.
If you’re considering seeing this film, I can save you the time and the money. Cronenberg and Wagner hate L.A. life, and think that part of the industry is full of disgusting liars that say and do terrible things in an unending incestuous cycle.
That is all.