ery few performers nail neurosis like Julianne Moore. Between her stupefying embodiment of a housewife on the brink in Todd Haynes’ terrific Safe (1995), tightly-wound turns in a sprawling pair of PT Andersons (Boogie Nights, 1997; Magnolia, 1999), the contemptible social climber at the core of Tom Kalin’s Savage Grace (2007), a nuanced metamorphosis of Margaret White (2013’s efficient redux of Carrie), and her anguished, Oscar-bagging portrait of early-onset dementia (Still Alice, 2014), Moore has stoutly monopolised the market in complicated women on the knife-edge of existence.
Havana Segrand is no exception. As the raw, throbbing pulse of David Cronenberg’s barbed-tongued poison pen to the Hollywood machine, Maps to the Stars (2014), the character feels equal parts an explosive culmination of Moore’s work up to that point and a blistering exposé on the foul treatment of females in the film industry; a business that has thrived for over a century on the chewing-up-and-spitting-out of its lady artistes. It is here that the fangs of Sunset Boulevard (1950)—Billy Wilder’s own tart sermon on the injustices of showbiz—are bared most evocatively, that picture’s fabled icon (the delusional Norma Desmond) repurposed in the guise of Segrand: a sociopathic ex-starlet barely functioning—in the shadow of her deceased actress mom—from one misguided hookup, one therapy session, one martini, one Xanax to the next, her days marred by the besmirch of a dead career and the virulent self-disdain she carries on her shoulders.
Christ, those therapy sessions. Led by a scuzzbag celeb-cum-shrink (John Cusack, whispery of voice and blank of gaze) whose strategies could at best be described as unorthodox, these fearsome interludes suggest the type of gruelling probe into repressed childhood trauma that one can envisage real-world casualties of mother-daughter toxicity—Liza Minelli, Christina Crawford, Drew Barrymore, et al.—being subjected to at some stage or another. This version of Segrand is worthy of our compassion, as glimpses of Havana the frightened moppet (pining for maternal protection that never comes) kaleidoscope though the despairing glisten of Moore’s crocodile-green irises, the stigma of incestuous abuse scrawled filthily across her cold, knotted visage. That she is also being hounded by a kid-ghost avatar of her mother and, what’s more, that she insists on chasing a lead part in the imminent “reimagining” of a cult curio made famous by mommie dearest (too much like “stunt casting”, she’s told) injects further torrents of pathos into this Tinseltown tragedy.
Then, of course, there is the other Segrand: the venomous narcissist who dupes her limo driver into some mid-afternoon naughties (on the backseat, no less) purely to rattle her teenaged “chore whore” (Mia Wasikowska, bedevilled by abysmal demons of her own), who dared to divulge to her boss that she’s sleeping with the pretty-boy chauffeur. It’s about as spiteful a manoeuvre one could imagine, but that’s Havana all over: churlish, manipulative, resentful; a cyclone of petulance and egocentricity, capable of doing good but choosing instead—the upshot of a lifetime’s worth of physical and emotional molestation—to be the biggest bitch she can possibly be.
For all of its soapy, lurid histrionics, there remains an intrinsic bleak shallowness to Maps that forbids it from tunnelling into areas more cerebral; though I expect this was very much the intent, its figurative daggers pointed not toward pseudo-psychology but the crass, surface-level vulgarity of La La Land: Cronenberg’s Calif. is a place to be feared, a forlorn, volatile nightmarescape barren of clemency and comfort—the creatures there are vain, dishonest; they are free of rectitude and, quite frankly, worthy of nothing but the miserable cards they have been dealt.
The incandescent Ms. Moore, on the other hand, warrants every last iota of praise. Whether badgering her grizzled, long-suffering agent about that coveted film part (“This role was made for Best Supporting! It’s a fucking second chance!”), indulging in a spot of girl-on-girl foreplay during a midnight ménage à trois, tittle-tattling on a sidewalk with Carrie Fisher (God rest her soul), or sat breaking wind—spread-legged and shameless—on the john, she devours Segrand with the gluttonous resolve of a starved anaconda.
Hell, on the contrary, it might just be Segrand who devours Moore.