Thursday, December 18, 2014


Havana is a star of a certain age and rapidly shooting toward invisibility in the night sky. Benjie is still a child star but is on probation in a sequel after almost self immolating on a drug binge at thirteen. His nail hard mother guards his progress while his Beatle-quoting father relieves the stress of the Beverly Hills A-list as a kind of physiopsychiatrist. Carrie Fisher (the real Carrie Fisher) recommends a "chore whore" to Havana whose last one is in a recovery oubliette. This is Agatha, whom we actually meet first as she alights a bus to Hollywood and magnetises the driver of the limo she has arranged (beyond her means). She is scarred with burns. Getting that story will prove dramatic.

Take all this and handle it normally and you might have a passable melodrama or, more likely, a stinging satire pushing boundaries set by Entourage or perhaps a more humane contrapuntal narrative fugue by a Robert Altman or a Paul Thomas Anderson. But, no, David Cronenberg is at the helm and we are not going to get out of it so easily.

Don't get me wrong, the narrative machine is well oiled and works with a Swiss movement. DC even rolls back the visual style to a muted high-placed Californian good taste. The Terror of Toronto is at his least when he allows the action and linear pull enough sway to make you forget it's him. At his best, whether elbow deep in bizarre prosthetics like Videodrome or shiveringly rareified like Crash, he serves up a muscular narrative and throws the essay booklet in. At his best, he is all about the notion.

This is not an attack on Hollywood or even much of a comment on it. The setting, however, is essential. In what better milieu could we trial such a tale of scarifying incest and the passage of sin
between generations than in the central hive of meme production that is the Dream Factory?

Havana knows to air kiss the rival she would sooner eviscerate. Her sessions with Stafford the massaging shrink give us the most Cronenbergian visuals as Julianne Moore (Havana) distorts herself under his (John Cusack's) professional intimacy to the border of recognisability. The star (a particularly honestly freckled Moore) must touch real ugliness for her redemption. The always impressive Moore went to a similar realm in the undersung Safe. Like Keira Knightley in Dangerous Method, she is pushing the envelope with the odd effect that we both sympathise with and recoil from her.

That's the other thing about a good Cronenberg film: performances that go places. Moore's is the most external but the others are no less impressive. The ubiquitous Mia Wasikovska (I should tally how many times I've seen her on screen this year alone) warms us with pathos, terrifies us with madness and somehow also charms us. Olivia Williams steps into frame hard and unflatteringly almost monkish in appearance and turns our frown at her hardness into real pity. Newcomer Evan Bird as Benjie bravely plays a waxwork detachment up to the end, his pubescent forehead pimples giving us a grasping handle on his fragility as he tests our patience with his constantly self-abused power. I also found John Cusack's grown up teen star (a casting decision rather than a plot point) poignant. Current young adult idol Robert Pattinson surely finds a kind of satisfaction as one aspirant actor/writer among a million working a day job.

I've left the plot out of this review because it doesn't need any help from me. This piece that allows its sobering proposition to slowly swell up through the easily conventional narrative has more on its mind than giving us logic dots to join. For it's here on the cinema screen that we are shown our own affection for ideals wrenched earthward as we perhaps maybe might and kinda should aspire not to the stars made of flesh and anxiety but to fabulously refulgent light in the distance of the night whose outnumbering lightlessness taunts us toward the sparks.

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