David Cronenberg takes us on a guided tour to the dark heart of Hollywood, showing us elements of that city that the tour guides would certainly want to steer clear of. Along the way, we are introduced to a set of characters who are all pretty repellent in one way or another. Indeed, in the hands of a lesser director, this film would have struggled to hold the attention of an audience. But Cronenberg guides it all so expertly, the result is horribly compelling.
Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) has been badly burned in a fire in her childhood, but arrives in Hollywood full of hope for the future and looking for work. She hooks up with handsome limousine driver, Jerome (Robert Pattison), telling him that she has ‘become friends on the internet’ with Carrie Fisher (bizarrely playing herself). Fisher recommends Agatha as personal assistant to Havana Segrand, (Julianne Moore) a shallow, self-obsessed actress, currently chasing a role in what she hopes will be her ‘comeback’ movie, playing her own mother (herself a famous actress who died in a drowning) in a biopic of her life. (Weird enough yet? Stay tuned, it gets even stranger).
Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird) is a teenage phenomenon, star of the ‘Bad Babysitter’ franchise (think McCaulay Culkin, but with much more attitude) who has experienced a few problems in his childhood, while his father, Dr Stafford Weiss (John Cusack) is a celebrity therapist, whose patients include Havana Segrand. And Benjies Mother, Christina (Olivia Williams) is just a strung-out mess.
It’s evident from the very beginning that this isn’t going to end particularly well for anybody and Cronenberg doesn’t disappoint. Moore’s creation is a particular delight – snide, venal, happy to issue orders to Agatha whilst taking a dump, she is gloriously repulsive and must be a contender for yet another Oscar nomination with this. While it might not be quite up there with the director’s best efforts, it’s nonetheless entertaining stuff, well worth seeking out.