We’ve got a bit of a David identity crisis going on here, as Cronenberg attempts to go all Lynchian in this nightmarish tale of Hollywood royalty rotting from the inside out, and the hollow perception of fame being just as soul destroying as one might imagine. Coming from a screenwriter whose previous credits include A Nightmare On Elm Street 3, and hasn’t had a movie produced in 13 years, some of the fun-house mirror reflections of Tinsel-Town invariably feel all too real, but the movie ends up getting swallowed whole by its own bitter weirdness.
Agatha (Wasikowska) arrives in Hollywood and promptly tells her life-story to limo-driver/wannabe actor-writer Jerome (Pattinson). In no time at all, thanks to Carrie Fisher (playing herself for some reason), she’s been hired as the personal assistant to almost has-been Havana (Moore), who is currently hunting down the role in the remake of the movie her own abusive mother won the Oscar for. Havana is also a client to therapist-to-the-stars Dr. Weiss (Cusack), and he and his wife Christina (Olivia Williams) have a son, Benjie (Evan Bird), currently the biggest child actor in the world, who is also addicted to every substance most early teens shouldn’t even be aware of.
As the characters and their stories clash and separate, the cyclical nature of abuse rears its head, as does motifs of psychological damage and the potential cleansing nature of fire. All of these are placed against the backdrop of the dog-eat-dog nature of movie-making, but none of these themes successfully work together, and no two actors appear to be working from the same script. Only Bird – as a barely concealed Justin Bieber clone – and Moore – baring her all for the role, both body and soul – really impress and seem in tune with the movie they’re in. Wasikowska is good, but not given much to do other than be a bit odd, while Cusack is very badly miscast. Pattinson and Williams may as well not even be there, so little do their characters affect the story.
At times the living horror of their lives does creep under your skin, but between the cheap-looking day-time soap cinematography and half-assed attempt to dissect the community he’s both a part of and tries to keep his distance from, this very much feels like Cronenberg with the safety wheels on.