|for the moments of Wes Anderson magic amid a disjointed and overly arch two-in-one confection of aliens, grief and 1950s nostalgia
|Jason Schwartzman, Adrien Brody, Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Grace Edwards, Hong Chau, Hope Davis, Jake Ryan, Jeffrey Wright, Liev Schreiber, Margot Robbie, Matt Dillon, Maya Hawke, Rupert Friend, Scarlett Johansson, Steve Carell, Steve Park, Tilda Swinton, Tom Hanks, Tony Revolori, Willem Dafoe
|23rd June 2023
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
It’s 1955 and a widowed father, Augie Steenbeck (Jason Schwartzman), breaks down in the desert town of Asteroid City, which survives on tourists visiting the nearby crater caused by a meteorite.
He’s there to take his son Woodrow (Jake Ryan) to a convention of young space enthusiasts – or “brainiacs” – but without a working car, can’t take his daughters to visit their grandfather (Tom Hanks) nearby, so he summons him to collect them.
Augie hits it off with Midge Campbell (Scarlett Johansson), a famous actress who’s brought her daughter (Grace Edwards) to the same convention.
During a ceremony at the event, everyone is stunned to silence when they receive an unexpected visit – from above – as an alien comes down to take the remains of the meteorite that made the creator.
The government and military respond by imposing a lockdown on Asteroid City but those trapped by the curfew refuse to accept their fate without a fight.
WHAT’S IT LIKE?
That is only half of the story – literally; it actually opens with Bryan Cranston introducing a TV show about the making of a play, written by Conrad Earp (Edward Norton) and directed by Schubert Green (Adrien Brody).
While the main narrative unfolds in full widescreen with a drained colour palette befitting both the blinding light of a parched desert and its 1950s setting, the framing device of the “making-of” documentary is presented in black-and-white, in the old 4:3 TV ratio.
Wes Anderson always delivers visually arresting work that breezes along briskly, intentionally stuttering as it goes, to catch your attention. The quirky humour and deliberate performances announce the director in every frame.
But here, he’s perhaps pushed his own brand a little too far – he’s out-arched himself – and twice in the same film.
There are perhaps two films worth exploring but there’s little to be added to either by bringing them together into this disappointingly disjointed confection – if anything, the story of a group of people trapped in Asteroid City by a lockdown imposed because of an alien visitation is disrupted by the tale of a writer bringing his vision to the stage, that doesn’t particularly offer anything this particular genre hasn’t seen before.
It’s as the two-in-one structure was used because Anderson wanted to find enough roles for his ever growing gang of collaborators to join him.
There is plenty of nostalgia to soak up and there are moments of gravitas and worthy themes – such as an exploration of grief – that are buried beneath the surface if you can bothered to look – but they’re not well explored, as he quickly moves onto the next absurdist whim.
There are hints of his usual magic, with moments of pure delight, but it doesn’t quite hang together as it should. It’s as if Anderson just lined everything up ready and it got scattered by a meteorite and rather than rearrange it, he just left it where it was.