FOR DIRECTOR DAVID Cronenberg (“A Dangerous Method”, “Eastern Promises”, “A History of Violence”) the people who inhabit planet Hollywood are really a species who inhabit a separate constellation. Their lives are as empty as the large, opulent empty houses they rattle around in. It is into this constellation of stars that an alien, Agatha Weiss (Mia Wasikowska) lands. She is from Jupiter. That’s Jupiter, Florida.
She’s the coy, charming, totally deranged homicidal daughter of masseuse/therapist/media star, Dr. Stanford Weiss (John Cusak) and his overbearing wife, Christina (Olivia Williams). Stanford and Christina have sired two children, Agatha and a thirteen year old Bieberish punk child star, Benjie (Evan Bird).
Stanford and Christina are also siblings.
Like parents like children: Agatha also wants to be married to her brother.
It must be something in the water.
When Stanford discovers that Agatha is baaaaack (after seven years in a clinic) he’s understandably concerned, you could say hysterical, since the last time she was in town, she burnt down the family home, in some sort of attempt to kill the ghosts of dead people who were haunting her. The fire has severely scarred her. They are the scars of her past upon her person.
The others are not so lucky. Benjie bears his scars inside his tormented head. He sees dead people. They are the ghosts of his guilt.
Ageing star Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore) also sees dead people: her mother – who she thinks or at least claims, had abused her sexually as a child.
Incest, like dead people runs rife in this planet.
Havana is obsessed with neutralizing the ravages of age. She’s puffed up her lips and is intent on landing a role that will reprise the movie that made her mother a hit star (and somehow turn back time). She wants to both outperform her mother and through this role, reclaim her youth. But the ghost of her mother is having none of that and she is haunted by it. The role is one that Agatha wants so desperately that she’s prepared to sleep with anyone to get it. (Which is par for the course in planet Hollywood)
Havana has hired Agatha to be her gofer. In this planet, that means doing everything including, we are shown, helping her shit.
And hovering around these stars is wannabe actor, script-writer, chauffeur and resident stud muffin, the man with the movie star sounding face and name – Jerome Fontana (a Robert Pattinson), there to help Agatha feel beautiful and Havana feel young.
Pattinson is out of his depth here. He is a bland invisible presence in what is really a stellar constellation of talent working really really hard to deliver some sort of emotional resonance into a movie geared at little more than making its audience feel haughtily superior to these well paid losers.
It’s fun to watch, but the overriding questions we’re left with as the lights come up are, “And so? Do we care? Is this it?” This is the kind of cathartic navel-gazing that Hollywood seems to revel in. No wonder it headlined Cannes: it’s big hearted Hollywood showing the world how self-critical it can be: the emptiness and perils of fame. But Cronenberg and writer Bruce Wagner (who adapted his film script to book form in “Dead Stars”) are careful to keep anything that veers into tangible reality at arm’s length. The viewers in Cannes need not fidget too much in their seats. The protagonists after all, see dead people; the performances are boldly coloured caricatures of stock weirdoes; there’s enough death and agonizing hysteria to give the viewers at Cannes the way out: we may be rich and famous and in therapy, but we’re not like these weirdoes. These types only exist in the movies.