They teach cub reporters to always answer the Five Ws in their articles. I know them well because I spent four years studying journalism. I was under the tutelage of the Super Sugar Crisp bear. He taught me everything I needed to work for a newspaper on the back of his cereal, and even gave me a prize inside. The difference between me and a graduate of Columbia University's School of Journalism is that I got an invisible ink pen. And enough Super Sugar Crisp to rot my teeth.
The Super Sugar Crisp bear told me the "Five Ws" are: Who, What, When, Where, and What the Fuck?
I was thinking about the Five Ws as I watched David Cronenberg's new movie Maps to the Stars. I think about them about at least three Ws when I'm struggling with what to write about. And that happens often. It's worse this week because of all that sugared cereal I ate as a kid, I had to get a root canal this week. That came with a prescription for oxycodone. This is a real prescription, and now I can see how fake the one I bought from the other stock boy at work was. For one, real prescriptions aren't torn out of a college-ruled notebook. Also, "Dr. Ass" is not a real doctor.
Let me give you the Five Ws of Maps to the Stars.
Who: David Cronenberg directed this movie and Bruce Wagner wrote it. Cronenberg is known for Crash, Scanners and Dead Ringers. He's known for trying to be weird. He's hoping to live up to that reputation here, but it feels belabored. All the weird shit is on the surface, cold and obvious. There is nothing that gets under your skin here.
This movie is loaded with the kinds of actors I fucking hate because they're "actors" first and characters second. Julianne Moore and John Cusack, of course. They both get praised by people who love watching acting more than watching stories. "See how hard I'm working? See what a daring role I'm playing? I'm an ACTOR!"
Moore plays a melodramatic, mean fading actress who wants to revive her career by reprising a role of her famous mother's. Her histrionics are out of key and from a different movie than the rest of this flat, cold flick. Cusack plays a fraud self-help guru who also happens to be married to his own sister, among other skeletons in his closet. He and his wife/sister (Olivia Williams) have two children. The son is a rude, entitled teen actor (Evan Bird) fresh off drug rehab while the daughter (Mia Wasikowska) was banished to Florida after she discovered her parents incestuous secret and tried to burn down the house with her brother in it.
Robert Pattinson is also here as a pasty limo driver who mutters. I have no fucking clue why. His scenes aren't relevant and his performance is flatlined. The only cameo I recognized in Maps to the Stars was Carrier Fischer. That's a shame, because a movie trying to expose Hollywood needs to establish that it lives within Hollywood. Cameos would do that better than characters dropping names.
What: Maps to the Stars is a rehash of Hollywood clichés: It's evil; it's incestuous; it exploits people until they're dried up and then throws them out; it's full of dissembling assholes. None of what Maps to the Stars sets out to tell the audience is a surprise or even thought provoking. Sunset Boulevard covered it 60 years ago and is a fuckload better. Mulholland Drive gets to the heart of how the movie industry eats its own in a much creepier and affecting way, and without the harsh cheapness and chill of this movie.
The nutty daughter returns from the asylum to Hollywood where her family is succeeding while being miserable. The father is dispensing platitudes on infomercials and the son stars in a shitty franchise called "Bad Babysitter." The mother wrangles her boy for maximum profit. The daughter befriends Julianne Moore's actress and returns to haunt her family. From there, Cronenberg and Wagner want to creep us out with incest, history repeating and ghosts. But the weird shit is too "on the nose" to work. I could see the Freud books open, strings being pulled, and Cronenberg and Wagner's hands manipulating everything. The correlations between family incest and Hollywood's fucking itself are too obvious to give anyone insight. They don't feel like they are coming from inside the Dream Factory, but rather from someone reading a tabloid in Iowa.
When: Maps to the Stars takes place solidly in the present day. It's about Hollywood, and yet it barely makes reference to the past. If this movie wants to rip apart the romantic ideal of Hollywood, it needs to establish that ideal. And that is in the past. Nobody thinks Transformers or Ted are anything but the product of a cynical sausage factory, and yet that's the Hollywood this movie roots itself in. For comparison, Mulholland Drive did a fucking amazing job of layering the golden age of cinema onto the present. This movie is either too cheap, too lazy or too dumb to do the same.
Also, Moore's character wants to reprise her famous mother's last role. In brief clips, that old movie is shown in gauzy golden-era black and white because that's the easy way to represent old Hollywood. But that would mean the old movie is at least 60 or 70 years old, and then so would Moore be. It's just sloppy.
Where: Hollywood, and I mean Hollywood and Vine, the big white letters on the hillside and the fancy mansions. But while it shows those big letters to establish locale, the story is mostly claustrophobic, failing to immerse itself. The story confines itself to a star's trailer, or in one of two mansions, one French country, the other modern. It might as well be anywhere.
What the Fuck: I don't have an answer here. Maps to the Stars exposes nothing new. I didn't get insight or ideas that would linger. I came out pissed at its cheapness and its "Freud for Dummies by Dummies" way of presenting itself. I was annoyed by the obviousness, that any asshole would think this was subverting anything.
This isn't creepy; it's trying too hard to be. I guess it's disturbing in the same way Manos: The Hands of Fate is; what's on the screen doesn't bother as much as the idea that someone thought anyone would want to see this.
So What the Fuck is Maps to the Stars? It's a bad movie, a cheap, sloppy, obvious and pointless one. It isn't fun like Super Sugar Crisp, or oxycodone. It isn't nutritious like broccoli. It's just a bad time at the movies with nothing to show for it. One Finger.