Forty-something actress Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore) is trying to jump-start her stagnant career by remaking the signature film of her late mother, Clarice Taggart (Sarah Gadon). Havana is also under the care of TV psychologist Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), who, along with wife Cristina (Olivia Williams), oversees the movie career of their spoiled, ill-mannered 13-year-old son Benji (Evan Bird). And Jerome (Robert Pattinson) dreams of being an actor or screenwriter, but makes his living as a limo driver.
A strange young woman named Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) - covered with burns from a childhood house fire - travels to Hollywood and inserts herself into the orbits of Havana (as her assistant), Jerome (as a client and confidante), and the Weisses (as...something else.)
This film contains examples of:
- Abusive Parents:
- Havana maintains that Clarice was this to her. The ghost of Clarice disputes this.
- When Stafford finds Agatha in his home, he physically attacks her, punching her repeatedly in the stomach before throwing her out.
- Beleaguered Assistant: Agatha starts out chipper and efficient as Havana's assistant, but eventually gets ground down into this trope before reaching her Rage Breaking Point.
- BrotherSister Incest: Stafford and Cristina Weiss. In their defense, they'd been separated at an early age, and only found out after they'd met, married, and raised a family.
- Father, I Want to Marry My Brother: When Agatha and Benji were young, she would feed him sleeping pills and perform a mock wedding ceremony with him. During one such ceremony, the house caught on fire, badly burning Agatha in the process.
- The Cameo:
- Conspicuous Consumption: During a shopping trip on Rodeo Drive, Havana moans "I can't believe I just spent eighteen thousand dollars!" Later, she blows a gasket when Agatha inadvertently menstruates on "MY TWELVE THOUSAND DOLLAR SOFA!"
- Country Matters:
- Benji asks his agent if he has one after an unsuccessful meeting.
- Stafford refers to his daughter as this.
- Fan Disservice: There is nothing even remotely erotic about seeing a naked Olivia Williams sobbing hysterically in the bathtub.
- Gorn: When Havana fires Agatha, the latter grabs one of Havana's acting trophies and bloodily bashes her head in.
- Horrible Hollywood: Pretty much the entire point of the movie. Delusional, past-their-prime actresses? Spoiled-rotten child stars? Smiling, sanctimonious agents? Having to play nice with a rival actress who just stole the role of a lifetime from underneath you? Check, check, check, and oh HELL yes.
- I See Dead People: Havana regularly hallucinates her dead mother Clarice, while Benji is haunted by a young cancer patient he briefly (and brusquely) visited at the start of the film.
- Lotus Position: Havana is attempting to meditate when her agent calls: another actress has been cast in the remake of Havana's mother's film. Havana calmly listens to the entire message, then smashes her cell phone and lets out a Skyward Scream.
- Male Frontal Nudity: During a Three-Way Sex moment with Havana, fellow actor Sterl Carruth, and Sterl's girlfriend, when he gets out of bed to answer his cell phone. The women continue to go at it while Sterl treats himself to A Date with Rosie Palms.
- Opera Gloves: Agatha wears them throughout the film, to hide the burn scars on her arms.
- Rage Breaking Point: Agatha reaches hers after being assaulted by her father, watching Jerome have sex with Havana in his limo, then Havana firing her for menstruating on her expensive sofa.
- Self-Immolation: Cristina.
- Shoot the Dog: Benji's friend Brett shows off a revolver he "bought on eBay." Benji grabs it, unloads it (or so he thinks...), plays False Roulette a few times, then points the gun at Rhett's dog and pulls the trigger.
- Spoiled Brat: Benji, and how! He's dismissive of the grownups in charge of his career, flat-out rude to fans, and insanely jealous of a younger co-star who's stealing all the scenes in Benji's comeback project.
- Title Drop: In the opening scene, Agatha asks Jerome if she should purchase said map. Jerome maintains she'd be wasting her money.
- Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Benji pukes in a men's room urinal after a fruitless meeting with a casting agency.
- Would Hurt a Child: Benji tries to strangle his young scene-stealing costar, thinking it's the ghost of the cancer patient who's haunting him.