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  • Writer's pictureMax Markowitz

Maps to the Stars

A Perfect Mix of Drama and Comedy

Maps To The Stars is a humorously tense in-depth study of modern society's relationship with fame. The film explores the notion that fame is identity through characters who have fallen deep into the cult of Hollywood.

Agatha Weiss (Mia Wasikowska) has returned to Los Angeles after years away to reconcile with her estranged family. Agatha’s family includes her father Stafford, (John Cusack) a successful TV psychologist, her mother Christina (Olivia Williams), and younger brother Benjie, (Evan Bird) a young child actor fresh out of rehab.

A life-threatening incident from the past leaves Agatha’s parents unwilling to speak to her. In need of employment, Agatha becomes a personal assistant to Havana Legrand, (Julianne Moore) a fading Hollywood star who happens to be one of Stafford’s private clients. Over the course of Agatha’s return to Los Angeles, secrets are confessed, betrayals are committed and already strained relationships are ripped apart.

Before going into the performances, it's important to acknowledge that Maps To The Stars has a perfect mix of drama and comedy. It's deeply unsettling and disturbing but it is also wildly funny in a very weird way. The characters are all mentally unstable and their lack of filters enrich the script that's just engrossed in cleverness.

Mia Wasikowska’s portrayal of Agatha is so flawless, she might as well be portraying a frozen lake, not even the summer solstice could melt. Throughout Maps To The Stars, you learn that regardless of Agatha’s past, she is the film's biggest victim. She's emotionally scarred and brutally traumatized but she's not screaming for help. She's a very independent person and the differences in those she comes across determine how she will behave around them. Sometimes, she's as casual as a blinking cat and other times, she'll be as energetic as a bull chasing the color red.

Agatha’s relationship with fame is not as black and white as the others because she's not famous. She's simply related to individuals who have risen to success in her absence, so she's able to look at the anatomy of fame through a lens the other characters don't possess.

Agatha is someone who's really trying to figure out who she is but she doesn't strike me as someone who sees fame as an identity. I think she finds fame to be an exciting concept but I don't think she absolutely has to have it the way her boss and family do. If she tries to pursue it, it's for fun.

John Cusack and Olivia Williams’s performances are very interactive because they're both very similar people. Christina is a tad more reserved than her husband but she's very controlling and manages everything in her son's life which is all about his career. They're both so selfish and equally complicit in the downfall of their children. They both gave up on Agatha a long time ago. They only acknowledge her return to town because they are frightened of her. Stanford claims his entire identity through fame because his fans don't know the real him. This allows him to live as someone he isn't, someone he'll never be.

I would describe his and Christina's marriage as what it's like to get the same coffee from the same barista every morning. You only know this person because of what they do for you. You don't think about them. You don't stop to consider the dreams they have, the traumas they keep buried or the desires they crave. You casually get what you need from them and that's it.

Evan Bird’s portrayal of Benjie felt very real to me because realistically, individuals who are suffering to such a dark extent don't do anything about it because they don't know what to do. They may not even know there's anything to do. If you live in affliction, it'll eventually become normal to you because it's your norm. He's always felt invisible but most likely never considered other families aren't like his. Agatha's return sparks a theory in him he's powerless to explore. The theory that there's a world outside the superficial one his parents have suffocated him in.

Julianne Moore’s Havana is one of the films most captivating characters because of the complex monologues she gives and the facial expressions she makes. Havana’s mother was a famous star who Havana could never get love or approval from. She definitely has a mommy dearest thing going on.

Agatha doesn't confide in her about her parents. There is a scene where Havana asks Agatha if she's ever heard of Stafford Weiss and she says no. This scene is very important because Havana has no way of knowing Agatha’s demons and yet, something about her assistant’s arrival sends her into a rabbit hole of inner chaos.

Mental illness is a huge subject matter in Maps To The Stars. Havana is already ill because of the extent of the abuse her mother put her through. Now, she's being treated for the abuse by someone just like her mother whose daughter is working for her. Stafford, in turn, is treating someone for the same abuse that he is putting his son through. The pattern is undeniable but conveniently unacknowledged. Stafford’s role in Havana’s life gradually sends her into a downward spiral that slowly descends into madness. Her fate is ultimately sealed by saying the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time. Moore held Havana’s inner demons in her hands and used them to fully transform herself into this broken character.

Overall, I believe films belong to the characters and Maps To The Stars is a film that speaks this belief so eloquently. It's a very haunting indie. It tells you things about people and families in very secretive yet familiar mannerisms. Maps To The Stars is a 21st century American Beauty. If you are an intellect, film schooler, or massive fan of independent cinema, Maps To The Stars was made for you.

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