Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5.
Canada/USA/Germany/France, 2014. Prospero Pictures, Sentient Entertainment, SBS Productions, Integral Film. Screenplay by Bruce Wagner. Cinematography by Peter Suschitzky. Produced by Said Ben Said, Martin Kartz, Michel Merkt. Music by Howard Shore. Production Design by Carol Spier. Costume Design by Denise Cronenberg. Film Editing by Ronald Sanders. Cannes Film Festival 2014. Golden Globe Awards 2014. Toronto International Film Festival 2014.
In David Cronenberg’s Hollywood, incest is not just a way of doing business but a reality at home as well. A child star (Evan Bird) with a drug problem, a therapist (John Cusack) who physically shakes insecurities out of his celeb clients, an emotionally unstable actress (Julianne Moore) who is trying to reclaim her abusive childhood through remaking her mother’s film, and a burn victim (Mia Wasikowska) who shows up with mysterious intentions form the nexus of the ugly situations that follow. Bird is about to make a sequel to the hit that made him the Haley Joel Osment of Bruce Wagner’s fictional universe, angry about an even younger co-star threatening his career and giving him the kind of insecurities you’d more likely expect in an older actor. That older actor could be Moore, who in trying to land the lead in a movie that was initially her idea is haunted by the spectre of her dead mother (Sarah Gadon) who reinforces her self-doubt. Wasikowska shows up out of nowhere and becomes Moore’s assistant, romances a limo driver and aspiring actor (Robert Pattinson) and steps gingerly around the family she left behind in tragedy years earlier, while Olivia Williams is a standout as the stage mother to a volatile prodigy who is completely blind to her own ambition and what destruction it wreaks. Wagner’s narrative is deliciously acerbic and, in describing the movie business as an animal devouring its own tale, manages moments of incredibly ripe humour. The various element don’t combine well, however: Bird’s frustration is never convincing and the magic realist moments of dead figures tormenting the living are played without any of the humour reserved for the bitter take on Hollywood fluffheads, and as such are the weakest points of the film. For a movie with so much plot there’s very little drama actually happening, Cronenberg’s continuing brand of cerebral filmmaking ill-suited to a story that deserves a little more emotional oomph to it, and a lack of connection between characters the result of people behind the camera who have no sympathy or interest in their inner lives. In short, it doesn’t have the perfectly calibrated wit of The Player or the starry-eyed melancholy of Mulholland Drive, because Altman and Lynch are willing to admit that they are unwisely biting the hand that feeds them and just can’t stop themselves. The acting is great, though, and the blanched-out cinematography belies the usual idea of glamorous Hollywood by displaying Tinseltown as a collection of bland sidewalks and soulless mansions.