review for Star Maps on AllMovie

Star Maps (1997)
by Dan Friedman review

Hopefully someday films will be recognized for themselves and will no longer be labeled by the ethnicity or gender of their creators. While it may be condescending to praise someone as a Hispanic filmmaker, when the film itself reflects the filmmaker's background and makes potent use of it, it's a positive thing. Star Maps, the directorial debut of Miguel Arteta is a film that deserves praise for being ambitious but at the same time filled with an ambiguity that distracts from some of its more powerful themes. Carlos, played by Douglas Spain, is a youthful dreamer whose ultimate goal is to become a movie star. As his way of making connections, he allows his father, Pepe (perfectly played by Efrain Figueroa), to pimp him on the streets of Los Angeles under the guise of selling maps to the stars' homes. In addition to this unseemly arrangement, Carlos must also deal with a mother recovering from a nervous breakdown and a home life that is, shall we say, less than ideal. For a while it appears as though Carlos will achieve his dream when he becomes a sort of concubine to a popular television actress played by Kandeyce Jensen, which allows Arteta to add yet another layer of complexity into Carlos' life. Truth be told, the entire film revolves around the relationships Carlos fosters (or endures) with his father, his mother, his lover, and even the johns and jills that make up his clientele. Spain is nearly flawless. You genuinely feel for the kid, even though the situations he finds himself in, sometimes by his own choice, are distasteful. The questions are drawn very plainly. Will Carlos get his big break or is he just being bribed for sex? Will his family ever escape from his father's influence? Can he live a normal life after all of these sordid experiences? The overall realism is solid, as are most of the performances. Figueroa is so completely detestable it is no wonder he duly won Best Supporting Actor at the Independent Spirit Awards, and Spain was also recognized for his work. Just by nature of the plot and circumstances, the film can be pretty heavy. With so many elements of tragedy unfolding, including some rather graphic violence and sex scenes, Arteta tries to include some lighthearted comedic moments, one supposes, to keep the audience from descending too deep into pathos. It's understandable, but it doesn't work. The film would have been better served by keeping its focus on its strengths, which in this case are strong characters and a very clearly crafted story.