Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Jeffrey Wright, Tilda Swinton, Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, Liev Schreiber, Hope Davis, Stephen Park, Rupert Friend, Maya Hawke, Steve Carell, Matt Dillon, Hong Chau, Willem Dafoe, Margot Robbie, Tony Revolori, Jake Ryan, Jeff Goldblum
Runtime: 1 hr 45 mins
Rating: M18 (Some Nudity)
Released By: UIP
Opening Day: 10 August 2023
Synopsis: Asteroid City is a dot-on-the-map desert town in the American Southwest. The year is 1955. The town’s most famous attraction is a gigantic meteor crater and celestial observatory nearby. This weekend, the military and astronomers are welcoming five science award-winning children to display their inventions. Not far away, over the hills, mushroom clouds from atomic tests are seen. The scene has been set for Wes Anderson’s newest film, both a rollicking comedy, dazzling in creation, and packed to the brim with images for one to dart their eyes to and from, and also as deeply felt as any of Anderson’s previous works. What begins as a celebration to honor the achievements of the Junior Stargazers receives an unexpected visitor: an alien. Asteroid City is locked down and a fake cover story is concocted by the Army, but the precocious geniuses, in a way that calls to mind the youngsters of Spielberg classics, have a plan to get the word to the outside world. Yet, in Anderson’s inimitable way, the story is bigger than that. Back east, the characters of Asteroid City are on-stage, preparing a play that is called “Asteroid City.” It is here that we venture backstage and into the lives of performers circa 1955. Theater actors polishing their craft, soon to become stars. As funny as any of Anderson’s works, to be sure, but more cosmic; an inward, personal examination of complex family relationships and new romances, parents and children, secrets, discoveries, and outwitting adults; the wide West and gray East, all in a perfect emotional balance that no one can strike better than Wes Anderson.
You may have seen all those wannabe Instagram reels mimicking the visuals of Wes Anderson’s films some time back, and wonder what the whole fuss is about.
Watching a Wes Anderson movie is like going to an art exhibition. Every frame in the American filmmaker’s works looks like a painting – and a very carefully composed one at that. It asks you to pay attention to every corner of the frame, telling you how clever the entire visual is. You can’t help but praise the aesthetics, despite feeling that this seems to be an act from a kid who desperately wants to show off.
Anderson’s movies are also a showcase of HollywoodA listers. If you were an actor, you may only feel complete if you have starred in a Wes Anderson movie. His latest work is no different. It stars Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Jeffrey Wright, Tilda Swinton, Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, Steve Carell, Willem Dafoe and Margot Robbie, just to list a few big names in the ensemble cast. Even Jeff Goldblum shows up an alien.
What about the story, you ask. Most of the movie shows viewers the happenings at a Junior Stargazer convention in a location known as AsteroidCity, where atomic test sites are situated nearby. Clever kids (and their parents, of course) have gathered, and an extraterrestrial shows up unexpectedly, sending the officials into a frenzy.
Before you think Anderson’s screenplay is straightforward, the plot is actually staged as a play, and we are seeing the creation of the play. Sounds clever enough for Andersonfans? Do not fret if you are worried about not getting the story, because this isn’t even meant to be a plot twist. From the get go, things are put in context so you can admire the movie’s whimsical cinematography and music score, courtesy of Robert Yeoman and Alexandre Desplat respectively.
You have to give it to Anderson for sticking to his unique visual style all these years, with live action movies like his earlier works (2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums and 2004’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou) to his recent hits (2014’s The Grand Budapest Hotel and 2021’s The French Dispatch). Fans would point out that his greatness is seen in animated films like Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) and Isle of Dogs (2018) as well.
We find that character’s in Anderson’s movies often feel detached from feelings, and the ones in this 145 minute film exude the same vibe as well. They seem to be merely delivering lines in a deadpan manner. Not that it is a bad thing, because there are certain sequences which work wonderfully. And when some characters show the slightest emotion, the impact on viewers can be felt.
We are referring to Schwartzman, who plays a confused father bringing his three daughters and award winning son to the convention. He is still grieving his dead wife, and is bugged by his father in law (Hanks). At the same time, he meets another parent who happens to be famous actress (Johansson). One can only imagine how his emotions are being tossed around. To top things off, we see him as an actor pondering what his role in the play is, and the sequence where he interacts with the actress (Robbie) who is supposed to play his wife (until her scene got cut), is brilliant. Visuals aside, it has been a while since we felt for a Wes Anderson movie (2012’s Moonrise Kingdom struck us emotionally), and this one about a troubled playwright penning a story named Asteroid City hits the right notes.
(Like all his movies, Wes Anderson's latest work is visually brilliant. On top of that, it has an emotional connection which we haven't felt since Moonrise Kingdom.)
Review by John Li