'Maps to the Stars': What the Critics Are Saying

Julianne Moore, Robert Pattinson and John Cusack star in David Cronenberg's satirical drama about the dark side of Hollywood.

Julianne Moore stars as an actress in therapy with a self-help guru (John Cusack) in Maps to the Stars, director David Cronenberg's surreal traipse through Hollywood's darker side. The film also stars Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson and Olivia Williams.

Read what top critics are saying about Maps to the Stars.

The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy writes that “some of the very black humor and snarky insider quips hit the bull’s-eye, and Moore, in particular, gives her all for the occasion. But the unmodulated and overweening bile is reminiscent of the severely negative films about Hollywood from the 1970s, such as Myra Breckinridge, Alex in Wonderland and The Day of the Locust, and it’s unlikely this one will have any better a box-office fate.” The “film’s most au courant and inflammatory conceit is no doubt the portrait of the 13-year-old megastar, Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird), a kid just out of rehab whose longtime success on TV and $780 million gross for his latest film allow him to call his agent stuff like "Jew faggot" and get away with it. He also thinks it’s funny when he labels people “vabinas” and, on a would-be goodwill visit, asks a hospitalized young girl how her AIDS is doing."

“The action is always on the move from one expensively appointed location to another — parties where Benjie gossips with vapid young things, executive meetings, film shoots and vivid, if not explicit, sex scenes involving the perennially available Havana [Moore], one a three-way with another woman and a guy, the other a rear-end backseat quickie with Pattinson’s driver in his town car.” Screenwriter Bruce Wagner "peppers his dialogue with some memorable profanities and extreme expressions of ego, all no doubt jotted down from real life onto his notepad. But perhaps the best line — an L.A. witticism if ever there were one — comes from an older woman who, when asked how she’s doing upon a chance encounter at the Chateau Marmont, replies, 'When I get in touch with myself, I’ll let you know.' " But, "the problem with unalloyed cynicism is that it gets old faster than nearly any other intellectual posture and feels cheap in the bargain" and the film "comes off more like a prank than a coherent take on 21st century Hollywood, even if there are crumbs of truth and wit scattered throughout it."

The New York Times' A.O. Scott says the film "imagines Los Angeles as an inferno of narcissism, greed and sexual perversity. The radiant sunshine has a sinister glow, and the blossoms on the trees are surely poisonous." It's "no surprise that a few actual ghosts show up in Maps to the Stars, though they could be hallucinations. In a city governed by fantasy and superstition, that amounts to a distinction without a difference." The "decadence surveyed here might be terminal," but "the hush in Mr. Cronenberg’s scenes can resemble the calm of an analyst’s office, where damaged souls come to breathe and reflect." Still, "it takes a perverse effort of will to love Maps to the Stars. It’s a little too chilly, and in some places too easy."

The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw disagrees, giving the film five stars and calling it "a satire of contemporary Hollywood, with echoes of Sunset Boulevard and Postcards From the Edge, depicting a communal nervous breakdown in a town so enclosed and incestuous that everyone is part of the same symbolic sibling-hood of fear. This is one, big, unhappy dysfunctional family, in which guilty souls are afraid of failure and haunted by the return of the repressed. Every surface has a sickly sheen of anxiety; every face is a mask of suppressed pain."

Rex Reed of The New York Observer calls Moore "the best thing in this toxic carnage of creepy, self-indulgent decadence, but under the direction of loopy Canadian David Cronenberg, she goes beyond the limit of acceptable artistry. She even plays one entire, seemingly interminable scene on the toilet, her colon blocked by her Vicodin addiction, with all the accompanying bathroom sound effects you can imagine." The film "has plenty of name-dropping, sex orgies, cult therapists and contrived eccentrics (including one star on an ego trip who sells his own excrement) but not one scene that shows the work people in the film industry actually do to make motion pictures. With its muddled plot twists, ridiculous dialogue" and "easy targets (Scientology is always good) and preposterous view of La La Land, Maps to the Stars is part satire, part soap opera, part ghost story, and totally moronic."

The Washington Post's Stephanie Merry gives the film four stars, calling it "funny and original, but also decidedly brutal as it satirizes Hollywood at its most despicable." Cronenberg's film "gets weird, not to mention weirdly violent. What begins as darkly funny builds into a grotesque solipsism: When Havana hears that a little boy has drowned, she prances around her pool because it means she might get her coveted role after all." The movie "can be over-the-top and the characters are rarely anything more than vile. And yet, the whole thing is mesmerizing. Bruce Wagner ... has a gift for incisive dialogue that’s outrageous yet also strangely believable, especially coming from the stellar actors behind these vivid characters."

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