Tag Archives: John Cusack

Hatin’ on Hollywood

Maps to the Stars

by Hope Madden

Who but David Cronenberg could take the bubbling Hollywood cesspool that is Maps to the Stars and create from it a chilly but fascinating snapshot of industry dysfunction?

The truth is that Bruce Wagner’s screenplay requires Cronenberg’s anthropological approach and perverse sense of humor. Without it, he’s written a vulgar soap opera. With it, he’s written a revoltingly compelling, oddly austere essay on the self-indulgent, self-congratulatory, fraudulent, repugnant, insecure insanity that is Hollywood.

The story itself couldn’t be more lurid, which is why Cronenberg’s peculiarly distant style is so effective. Some elements of his direction have changed little since he was bursting heads in Scanners.

What has changed over the decades is his ability to draw talent to his projects, and few of his casts have been as stocked as this one. The great (and finally Academy-acknowledged) Julianne Moore steals every scene as the prototypical damaged, aging starlet. Needy, vulnerable, charming and venomous – Moore hits every note on time and in tune.

The versatile Mia Wasikowska – who played Moore’s daughter in The Kids are All Right – here plays her newly hired personal assistant, or “chore whore” as she so delightfully puts it. Wasikowska’s Agatha is the vehicle for chaos in the film, although given the temperament and predilections of the characters involved, chaos is probably never far away.

Agatha wants to make amends for something she did to her family (Olivia Williams, Evan Bird and a gleefully toxic John Cusack) – something related, we assume, to the scarring on her face and neck. Meanwhile, she falls for a sweet but opportunistic limo driver (Cronenberg favorite Robert Pattinson).

Though the actions, reactions and eventualities are never entirely clear, there’s nothing convoluted about this film. Behaviors and reactions feel insane but never ridiculous, as if every self-serving act – no matter how vile – feels natural in this hotbed.

Maps to the Stars is unforgiving, yet somehow weirdly watchable. Cronenberg’s films can be a challenge – not that they’re necessarily tough to understand, just sometimes tough to stomach. Maps to the Stars is certainly not his most violent, although the violence here is tough and surprising. What makes his latest so startling is that, though these characters are as horrid as those found in his best horror and SciFi, they belong right here in our own world.

No wonder he makes independent films.




Welcome to Adulthood! Yes, It Does Suck

Adult World

by Hope Madden

“Fame is your generation’s Black Plague.” So says Rat Billings (John Cusack), world-wearied poet and reluctant mentor to naïve college grad and would-be poet, Amy (Emma Roberts).

Rat has lots of good lines – he is a poet, after all – about the strange era of newly formed adults who grew up working toward fame for fame’s sake. “Generation Mundane” he calls them.

Unbeknownst to Amy, she herself fits that description, and that irony is at the heart of the bright indie comedy Adult World. The chemistry at the heart of the film belongs to Roberts and Cusack.

When Roberts’s Amy leaves the nest 90K in college debt with no marketable skill (her degree is in poetry, after all), she takes a job at an old style porn shop. There, a unique and fascinating world revolves around her, but she’s too busy “feeling, deeply feeling” to notice. Which is, of course, the problem with her artistry – she’s trying to write when she has refused to live, so what could she have to write about?

We watch as Amy refuses to participate in life, insulated from the world by her misguided, socially-instilled belief in her own specialness. Thankfully, director Scott Coffey’s film – scripted with refreshing self-deprecation by Andy Cochran – is rarely too overt with its theme. Sometimes, sure, and you would never call the film exactly subtle. But it has some real freshness to offer instead.

While the cast on the whole is quite solid, Roberts really hits high gear in scenes with Cusack. When these characters are together we get to see each at his or her most potent. Films rarely offer such undiluted presences. Neither actor is afraid to embrace what is unlikeable about their own character, and their scenes together are a kind of joyous celebration of flaws. A giddy artistic energy flows between the two performers that is a blast to watch.

Not every pairing goes as well. Amy’s onscreen love interest is played by Roberts’s offscreen love (and American Horror Story co-star) Evan Peters. Though their romance is sweet, its course is also predictable.

Worse still, the great Cloris Leachman is underused, and Armando Riesco’s drag queen is tacked onto the story sloppily and without real meaning.

Still, much of this story rings true, and the approach taken to poke fun at Generation Mundane is clever and well-intentioned. More than anything, though, it’s great to see Cusack running on all cylinders and matched so well.