NYFF52 in the Rearview: Maps to the Stars (2014)

A little late but, alas, there is a lot to say about my adventures at Lincoln Center for the 52 annual New York Film Festival.

I start with my take on David Cronenberg’s latest feature – Maps to the Stars. Penned by Bruce Wagner (an L.A. native), this film is a cutting satire about Hollywood and our celebrity obsessed culture. The film has an all-star cast lead by Cannes Festival Best Actress Award winner Julianne Moore and includes John Cusack, Mia Wasikowska, Olivia Williams and Cronenberg muse-du jour, Robert Pattinson.

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It is a cold picture in that it projects Hollywood as this plastic, glossy (at times haunting) world so very disconnected from the “ordinary” and any known reality that I am aware of. No one who inhabits this world is shown much pity; especially those who are self-professed “gurus” have in them a deeply troubling, corrosive core. As the layers of the film are revealed to the audience, this all leads to a shocking and disturbing denouement. In other words, classic Cronenberg.

While the dysfunctional interpersonal relationships (and demons) were very fascinating to watch, I could have done with more of the overarching “Hollywood is not what it appears” theme. But I guess that may have been the point – to interweave the immediate and the personal with the larger world that all of these players are a part of.

It is not a stretch to declare that Maps to the Stars is probably not for everyone – notably those of you who have gotten comfortable with some of the director’s more recent, “mainstream” (term used loosely) fare such as A History of Violence, Eastern Promises and A Dangerous Method.

There are plenty more qualified folks out there who have and will continue to speak more eloquently about the film, but in my reading some of the reviews, I noticed that there were the inevitable comparisons drawn to other films that have looked at Hollywood with a similarly caustic gaze. For me at least, I had no such thoughts. Surely, the themes of “all that glitters …” and the (potentially) corrupting nature of the machinery driving the industry are common, here with this film, the time, place and context give the story a very different tone. In that respect, Maps to the Stars kind of stands apart as a contemporary example in its dealing with the people, places and things concerning the “Dream Factory” in such an unrelenting manner.

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