Asteroid City (2023)

I could sit here and rattle off performer after talented performer that appears in the newest film written and directed by the stylistically one of one Wes Anderson and I would be here for hours, turning in a review that would surpass 2000 words. Anybody and everybody that Wes has featured in his illustrious filmography is present minus a few key names however the cast alone that make up Asteroid City is far more than impressive. Those missing would just be the cherry on top of an ensemble for the ages. The type of ensemble that easily can be led from the main star down to the smallest cameo and the film wouldn’t miss a beat.

But for the sake of time and the busy lives we all lead, I’ll stick to the few stars that have the most meat to their roles. Even the smallest of roles matter in a Wes Anderson film – his utilization of every character goes above and beyond the needs of the story. That said, Asteroid City is a play, written by legendary playwright Conrad Erp (Edward Norton) introduced to us by the host (Bryan Cranston) of the series the audience is tuning into. Shown with an aspect ratio and shot in black and white, the film in which is the play switches to color and a widescreen as the events of the small town named Asteroid City play out.

Following the Steenbeck family led by patriarch Augie (Jason Schwartzman) on their way to the eldest, Woodrow’s (Jake Ryan) astronomy convention in Asteroid City when their car breaks down inconveniently. Augie seeks the help of his kids grandfather Stanley (Tom Hanks) to watch the kids after the death of their mother. Stanley, disliking his son-in-law reluctantly agrees to this request stating he’s not a babysitter but still makes his way to the remote city.

The Steenbeck’s, along with several (and I mean several) of the other guests and convention goers stay at the motel run by its manager (Steve Carell). Among the guests is famed actress Midge Campbell (Scarlett Johansson) and her daughter Dinah (Grace Edwards). Augie and Midge strike up a flame during their time at the astronomy convention and star gazers awards that both Woodrow and Dinah are set to receive with one star gazer potentially winning a prize from Dr. Hickenlooper (Tilda Swinton). While the awardees play name games and keep their brainiac powers fresh, the small, remote Asteroid City is greeted by an uninvited guest, throwing everyone into a frenzy of great proportion.

In their romantic connection Anderson tackles loss and loneliness and how it affects us long term. No two people experience grief the same way and with Augie, the death of his wife is still something he isn’t ready to address. But Augie still finds ways to be there for his children among the grief he’s experiencing, even if Stanley doesn’t approve of Augie. And thats the root of it – we do our best to take the next step forward even when our world becomes small and uncontrollable. Through Midge, Augie is able to start healing – all he needed was a push forward.

Like any Wes Anderson film, when announced, you know exactly what you’re going to get. And by this point in the director’s filmography, you’re either a fan of his style of storytelling, visuals and humor or you’re not, there is no in-between. Sharp visuals of dazzling bright and vibrant colors that pop off the screen, a stylistically unique narrative structure and pristine direction. All of which and then some can be found. Asteroid City is Wes Anderson at his best from a technical standpoint.

On the story side of the coin, the play in which we are witnessing lacks focus going from point A to point Z. Everything in between happens and the ride is barely a thrill however there are moments that standout among the rest. One of those moments come during the awards ceremony when Dr. Hickenlooper announces when an astronomical phenomena can be seen. Each person will see three dots through a helmet as to not get these three small dots burned into their retinas – Dr. Hickenlooper wasn’t so lucky to avoid this. During this event, the color palette changes to all green and the main theme of Anderson’s film becomes clear.

While the play is just one event after the other, never reaching a destination or suitable conclusion, Anderson who also wrote the screenplay (as he normally does) asks the age-old question, are we alone in the universe? Is there intelligent lifeforms outside of earth and if so, are they friendly or a threat to human existence. General and host of the stargazer awards Grif Gibson (Jeffrey Wright) and his aide-de-camp (Tony Revolori) represent the militaristic approach to extraterrestrial possibilities – acting on strict orders and following them to the letter. Everyone else sees it as a possibility to profit off of.

Told in three acts, the small remote city quickly transforms into a destination when word leaks out. A quarantine is established and what starts as a short trip to the desert turns into a month’s long affair of distrust and disinformation. All of which is added with some genuinely humorous dialogue, Wes Anderson style. For the outstanding talented cast, all are in sync with one another, playing off quit whited timing and delivery.

For 105 minutes (an apt run-time that doesn’t overstay its welcome) Asteroid City may not push the needle with any new discoveries, extraterrestrial or of humankind or attract any new first-time viewers. What it does accomplish lies with the technical indulgence in mastery we come to expect Wes Anderson to deliver along with his quirky dialogue and remarkable displays of production design. The changes in contrast from dark blacks to the stark whites in title cards, from B&W to bright color can be jarring to adjust to (I had the same issue with Dune) and can be frustrating when the scenes change because they’re predictably announced however, the advanced notice still is something you can’t get used to.

Regardless of its shortcomings, Wes Anderson remains one of the talented directors that controls his own destiny within his sandbox of limitless imagination. I for one will be there every step of the way when the director comes up with his next idea – you just can’t beat the stellar consistency that Anderson brings to each new film.

Screenplay By: Wes Anderson

Story By: Roman Coppola & Wes Anderson

Directed By: Wes Anderson

Music By: Alexandre Desplat

Cinematography: Robert Yeoman

Starring: Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Jeffrey Wright, Tilda Swinton, Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, Live Schreiber, Hope Davis, Stephen Park, Rupert Friend, Maya Hawke, Steve Carell, Tony Revolori

Edited By: Barney Pilling

Release Date: June 16, 2023

Running Time: 1 Hour 45 Minutes

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 74%

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: