Is it possible to essentially like a movie yet feel revulsion toward its script? David Cronenberg's Maps to the Stars is clearly intended as a sharp satire of Hollywood ambition, vanity, avarice, and emptiness, and in places it's smart and astringently funny. Yet it seems to be fighting its own bone structure. The script is by Bruce Wagner, a screenwriter, producer, and novelist whose specialty, in bitter little books like Force Majeure and Dead Stars, is skewering Hollywood — he's like a jaundiced eye with a laptop attached. But Wagner has little or perhaps no affection for his subjects, and he too often shoots at the easy targets.
But the movie still has the darkly glittering Cronenberg touch, even if it's just a light brushing. And he's lined up the right performers, chief among them a witheringly funny Julianne Moore as Havana Segrand, a Hollywood actress in desperate decline. Her hair is bleached an ungodly shade of nowhere blond. The parts aren't rolling in as frequently as they used to, so she's frantically hoping she can play her own late, movie-star mother (who sexually abused her, natch) in a remake of her mom's big hit, despite the fact that she might be just a teensy bit over the hill for it.
Wagner packs a
lot into the script, as if banking on the idea that the more barbs you throw in, the more will stick. Cronenberg gives the picture as much shape and heft as he can. Meanwhile, Moore is a terrific and fearless comic actress, and whenever she's onscreen -- which, thankfully, is often -- Maps to the Stars works like gangbusters.