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Cronenberg films ‘Hollywood ecosystem’

Director David Cronenberg with Julianne Moore, Robert Pattinson and Sarah Gadon in Cannes.
By Thomas Adamson
AP (*)

Nightmarish tale Maps to the Stars could produce the director’s first Palme d’Or

Maps to the Stars is David Cronenberg’s nightmarish, hyper-real tale of vanity, greed and family dysfunction in Hollywood. But it may touch a raw nerve for some in the movie industry. With an all-star cast, including Julianne Moore, John Cusack and Robert Pattinson, the biting tragi-comedy that premiered at Cannes yesterday has critics guessing if it could produce, at long last, the veteran Canadian director’s first Palme d’Or.

It’s the story of Benjie Weiss, a troubled child-star brat and recovering drug addict, who earns US$300,000 a week (“enough to screw up Mother Teresa,”) played with scene-stealing cruelty by Evan Bird. He’s a relatively unknown 13-year-old who does not look dissimilar to a young(er) Justin Bieber.

The film explores the theme of incest. Literally, in the strange relationship Benjie develops with his disfigured sister Agatha, played by Mia Wasikowska; but also metaphorically: in this suffocating Cronenbergian vision of Tinseltown every star in the movie constellation is linked together, inbred, and not even the darkest secret can remain hidden for long.

Moore is brilliant as the hysterical Havana Segrand, a desperate 40-something actress who lives in the shadow of her forever-young Hollywood icon mother and sleeps with directors to stay in the game.

Carrie Fisher (daughter of icon Debbie Reynolds) plays herself in a cameo as Segrand’s friend, while self-reflexive insider references to Scientology-membership boosting career fortune, Robert Downey Jr.’s drug-taking past, or actors manipulating their public image by going on Oprah crop up all over.

However, Moore dodged questions about this film mirroring nasty industry realities and wouldn’t speak ill of Hollywood — despite her character’s obvious message. “I love the movie business. I’m not here to disparage it,” she said.

Cronenberg added with a smirk: “There’s nothing repulsive in the movie business. It’s all fabulous.”

Can it be that it’s still taboo to speak publicly about the movie industry’s dark side?

Only John Cusack, who plays a deranged self-help TV guru father, hinted that this neurosis-ridden, dysfunctional image of movie-making was an accurate portrayal.

“It was a very familiar eco-system ... of fear and greed and desperation. And there are all sorts of people who function within that (in LA) — feed it, enable it, are predators there,” he said.

But above all this picture, a laugh-out-loud orgy of narcissism, is Cronenberg’s funniest to date. Moore steals the film in a brilliantly macabre scene in which her character jumps up and down in happiness on news that a lead actress’ son has died tragically in a swimming pool, opening up a vacancy for her to replace the distraught actress as the film’s lead.

It had audiences laughing hysterically out of shock, and was the funniest — if darkest — seen in Cannes so far.

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