The opening weekend of the 52nd New York Film Festival kicks off with a film that is beautifully pleasing to the New York super-ego. David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars is a send-up of Los Angeles that is unmatched in quantities of spite and bile. Julianne Moore is scarily convincing as Havana Segrand, an idiotic and disgusting fading star with puffed lips and a career to viciously revive. Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack) is her “therapist”, in the business of providing massage-based self-help to high-end clients. (“I’m going to press on a personal history point now.”) His child-actor son Benjie (Evan Bird), has just returned from a stint in rehab and is ready to get his career back on track. He’s about twelve years old. Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), soft-spoken, mysterious and disfigured by burns, is hired as Havana’s new “chore whore,” going on endless runs to Whole Foods and elsewhere for astragalus, American Spirits and tubs of Cozy Shack pudding. Industry slang, gossip, and false earnestness are ceaselessly flung around Architectural Digest-style interiors in a hyperreal, almost poetic syntax.
Maps the the Stars takes everything that is easy to hate about the business of Hollywood and its rotten people to a new level of intimate and gleeful discomfort, giving expression to gut-level truths in acts of sadistic parody. Benjie abuses a male handler with “Why don’t you show me your cunt, Jew faggot?” An actress is described as letting producers put their dicks in her ass and urinate. The reply: “Good to know.” As Willem Dafoe-as-Pasolini says in Abel Ferrara’s new film, also in the festival: “To scandalize is a right. To be scandalized is a pleasure. Those who refuse to be scandalized are moralists.”