David Cronenberg's new film takes a jaundiced look at some of our most treasured monsters: Hollywood stars. It's a satirical psychodrama, a Greek family tragedy grafted onto a screwed-up show-biz tale (this can't possibly end well). It's scripted by Bruce Wagner, whose métier is poison-penning the venal nastiness of Hollywood in numerous novels and screenplays.
And so we have the Weiss clan: dad (John Cusack), a self-help guru; son (Evan Bird), a 13-year-old actor, fresh from rehab; and his stage mom (Olivia Williams). Down the road, there's an aging, self-absorbed actress (Julianne Moore), teetering into a nervous breakdown, and her new "chore whore" (Mia Wasikowska), a weird girl with burn scars and a mysterious past. Toss in a few cameos, a troublesome ghost or two, and an actor-writer-chauffeur (Robert Pattinson), and turn this up to 11.
Films excoriating the ugliness of Tinseltown date back nearly 100 years, but contemporary works do find new angles (now with more social media and incest!). While there is little new to be revealed, there's some cynical entertainment to be had wallowing in the horribleness of these characters: The story is outrageous (if a trifle dull and choppy), and leavened with pitch-black humor. Maps leans heavily on the family angle, clearly fascinated with the cyclical, corrosive nature of the industry, in which terrible show-biz parents create even more twisted show-biz progeny and so on, until only the truly crazy can stop the madness.