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  • Writer's picturePopEntertainment

Asteroid City (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jun 25, 2023


Starring 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, Sophia Lillis, Fisher Stevens, Rita Wilson and Jeff Goldblum.

Screenplay by Wes Anderson.

Directed by Wes Anderson.

Distributed by Focus Features. 105 minutes. Rated PG-13.

“What a strange experience this is.”

That line was spoken by Tom Hanks’ character in Asteroid City; however it could easily be referring to the act of watching Asteroid City.

Welcome back (again) to Wes Anderson-land. It is a place where extremely repressed people speechify about the big questions in life as well as the trivial pursuits, all in a kitschy old-fashioned diorama of cheesy sets, ticky-tacky product placements, winkingly outdated-looking special effects and Americana-laced backlots.

As always with Anderson, the story is somewhat inscrutable. Is it the story of a bunch of sci-fi fans in the 1950s who happen upon an alien invasion? Or is it a story of a bunch of actors doing a play about a bunch of sci-fi fans in the 1950s who happen upon an alien invasion? Is it an allegory about the quarantine? Is it a love story? A family drama? A military-industrial complex conspiracy theory? An old-fashioned western?

It is a little of all of those things, but not really any of them. Did you really expect Wes Anderson to spell anything out for you?

How you react to Asteroid City will pretty much rely on your patience for Anderson’s very specific filmmaking style. Some people find him brilliant, a dour and surreal chronicler of middle-class angst. Others find his particular style precious, fussy and humorless.

There was regular laughter by some of the critics at the film screening I attended, so obviously some people just GOT it. The rest of us mostly looked like we’d been given a shot of Novocain.

Asteroid City tells the story of a sprawling group of eccentrics and misfits, gathered in the New Mexico desert ghost town (or in a Hollywood Theater, or wherever the hell it takes place). They settle in a series of old cabins which look like old lean-tos, and look out towards the stars (the stars in the sky and the movie star in their midst) in search of… interplanetary life? Love? Understanding? The perfect photograph? An odd metallic ball?

Their conversations are as dry and arid as the surrounding desert, just tinged with a barely acknowledged longing that none of these characters seem motivated to act upon. None of the people here say quite what they want to say, and none of them gets quite what they want to get, either.

In fairness, stylistically, Asteroid City looks incredible. Even if you don’t quite get Anderson’s stylistic quirks as a storyteller, you have to acknowledge that he has a very specific and fascinating eye as a filmmaker.

Let’s face it. If you are a fan of Wes Anderson’s previous films, chances are that you will find Asteroid City to be brilliant. If you don’t like his work, this won’t be the one that changes your mind.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2023 All rights reserved. Posted: June 22, 2023.


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