Asteroid City

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

Asteroid City
dir-scr Wes Anderson
prd Wes Anderson, Steven Rales, Jeremy Dawson
with Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Jeffrey Wright, Tilda Swinton, Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, Liev Schreiber, Hope Davis, Jake Ryan, Steve Carell, Rupert Friend, Matt Dillon, Hong Chau, Margot Robbie
release US 16.Jun.23,
UK 23.Jun.23
23/US Focus 1h44

schwartzman johansson wright

Is it streaming?

hanks and davis
With a vast stellar ensemble, Wes Anderson concocts his least accessible movie. It's skilfully mannered and visually inventive, but the structure leaves it feeling aloof, with the plot framed as a play within a television show. Unsurprisingly, there are moments of genius all the way through, and the actors find beautiful layers of emotion under the surface. It's also a fascinating look at the dreamlike nature of storytelling.
In a black-and-white theatre, a TV host (Cranston) follows a playwright (Norton) as he mounts a bright-hued production dramatising an event from 1955 in Asteroid City, population 87, in the middle of the desert not far from where atomic bombs are tested. The innkeeper (Carrell) is hosting guests for the Junior Stargazer convention, held inside the town's famed crater. Then in the middle of the ceremony, an alien drops in and swipes their prized meteorite. Immediately, a military general (Wright) quarantines the town, and the isolation adds wrinkles to personal dramas that are already unfolding.
In a setting that seems deliberately designed to look like a Road Runner cartoon, colourful characters circle each other with their own insecurities and purposes. None actually become a protagonist, but focal figures include widowed photojournalist Augie (Schwartzman), whose son Woodrow (Ryan) is receiving a prize. Following his wife's death, Augie has asked his father-in-law Stanley (Hanks) to take in Woodrow and his three younger sisters. Augie also has a spark of attraction with the lonely Midge (Johansson).

The tone is resolutely deadpan, so the actors speak dialog with little inflection. Even so, they're sharp enough to add subtext to each exchange. Schwartzman and Johansson are the most emotive, gazing at each other at a distance through windows on opposite sides of the wide screen. And Hanks has some witty scenes involving a Tupperware and three little granddaughters he calls witches. Cranston's pop-up appearances are amusing. Swinton is fabulous in a brief role as a scientist. And cool cameos from Chau and Robbie add some unexpected angles.

What all of this means is the big question, and Anderson is having too much fun to let the audience inside, then in the final moments repeats the key thesis over and over again, concluding with a Jarvis Cocker track with the same lyric. But aside from a vague encouragement to be creative and embrace ambiguity, the film feels eerily impenetrable. It may look amazing, and the level of whimsy seems outrageous even for Anderson, so its promise is tantalising. But it never quite lands.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 12.Jun.23

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© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall