GET YOUR ROCKS OFF: ASTEROID CITY
Every time a new Wes Anderson movie comes out, I take to Twitter and say, “I see Wes Anderson has made his film again.” It’s very funny every single time, and the post often gets up to three likes.
Anyway, Wes Anderson has made his film again, and if you like Wes Anderson films, boy are you in for a treat. If you don’t, then boy are you in for a bad time. But cool your jets - perhaps you’re like me, someone who kind of likes Wes Anderson films, but thought that his last one, The French Dispatch, had jumped the whimsical shark and had taken Mr Anderson’s film making to its logical, pastel-drenched conclusion.
You might, if this is you, like Asteroid City; Mr Anderson seems to be pulling back from the brink of his own stylization.
All the tropes are there: the comforting color palate, the endless list of A-list stars (notably Bill Murray-free this time), the love of analogue artifacts and affectation and steampunk-adjacent exploration, the snippy dialogue, etc. However, whereas in The French Dispatch it felt at times that the style was leading the substance, here the story takes to the foreground, and it’s all the more enjoyable for it. There’s an implied sense of artifice in most Wes Anderson films, but here the whole movie is presented as a staged production, making the artifice overt from the start.
Brian Cranston plays ‘the announcer’ and leads us through the post-modern scenes of the writer (Ed Norton) not only creating the play that is 'Asteroid City', but also conversing with the cast (mainly Jason Schwarzman, Scarlet Johanson and Tom Hanks) as they prepare scenes. The world of ‘Asteroid City’ is self contained and coherent, but the leads walk backstage and peel back the layers, and we’re invited to look into the play’s innards.
The plot of the play - delivered in typical Andersonian fashion - is that a group of young science geniuses have gathered in a small desert town to receive awards for innovation. While there, the assembled crowds witness an extraterrestrial event and are subsequently held captive by the military. In a charming, whimsical way, of course. Jason Schwarzman’s character also has to tell his kids that their mother (also the daughter of Tom Hanks’s character) has died.
Annnnnd…that’s about it, with some very funny supporting roles from Steve Carell, Hope Davis and Tilda Swinton. The future-retro aesthetics of a post-war jet age are employed with humor and much less worthiness than The French Dispatch, and it’s a return to the more innocent, playful vibes of Moonrise Kingdom.
Make no mistake, I was prepared to be annoyed by this film, but the deceit is just charming enough for it to work, and its compact running time and budget make for welcome creative restraints. I feel like Wes Anderson decided to dial things back, and Asteroid City is all the better for it.
In the meantime, I see I’ve made the tweet about Wes Anderson making his film again again. Only this time, I’m not mad about it. (PO)
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