Cast: Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks
Director: Wes Anderson
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Release Date: June 23, 2023
Following a writer on his world-famous fictional play about a grieving father who travels with his tech-obsessed family to a small rural town called Asteroid City to compete in a junior stargazing event, only to have his worldview disrupted forever.
Asteroid City offers a different structure; it’s a play within a TV show within a movie, and the layers and self-awareness of that complex style will appeal to any fan of Wes Anderson. The film opens up with a theatre production being put on, called Asteroid City, set in 1955. It takes place when a Junior Stargazers convention is coming to a little desert town near in connection with California, Arizona and Nevada, where a long time ago, a meteor hit the earth, leaving a significant indentation in the ground and becoming a phenomenon among the community. The movie takes shape when we are gradually introduced to the star-studded cast. Many people arrive in the town, including Augie Steenbeck (Schwartzman), a recently widowed war photographer with his family whose car breaks down and gets stuck in Asteroid City. His eldest kid Woodrow (Jake Ryan), is one of the Junior Stargazers and is due to be honoured at the convention. Midge Campbell (Scarlett Johansson), an actress famous for her TV plays and mother to Dinah, like Woodrow, will also participate in the event. Augie and Midge begin to form a romance with each other, which touches on the emotional aspect of loneliness and longing.
The film displays many well-known faces, all in this for different reasons, so it would be impossible to list them all. But everyone is up to the challenge here and can handle the speed and density of Wes Anderson’s script and dialogue, which is so snappy and consistent among the actors. When a UFO appears, and an alien emerges in the town and removes the meteor from the crater during the convention, the whole city is put under military quarantine by The President and General Gibson (Jeffrey Wright). The residents are subjected to medical and psychiatric examinations to measure the potential effects of alien exposure. There is a strong theme of grief and detachment in the characters as they struggle to connect because they are trapped in this insular place; they finally, in their understated ways, begin to come and understand themselves and each other during this existential crisis. I think the meaning and representation of these metaphors refer to Anderson’s vision and experience from the recent covid pandemic. The alien could constitute the coronavirus, and the people confined in this one area are learning how to reconnect with humanity and each other. When Augie (Schwartzman) and Midge ( Johansson) are conversing, they do so at a distance and through square windows in a cabin, similar to Zoom calls during the covid pandemic.
Separate from the plot, the production design is impeccable, and the movie boasts this enormous burst of colour which pops out so effectively on screen and is so satisfying to watch. The cinematographer is once again Robert Yeoman, who has worked on every live-action feature by Wes Anderson; in this, he shows the viewer every detail in the costume and the road signage, which is so meticulous. Unfortunately, I didn’t connect emotionally to any of the characters; they always seemed to have this dry delivery whenever speaking. The plot loses its sense of awareness around the movie’s reality, there are so many layers to it, a play within a TV show within a film, which was pretty distracting and convoluted, and I found it hard to engage as to what was going on. Pacing became a problem in terms of the storyline, and at times it felt like there was no pulse, and then suddenly, I needed to catch my breath as it raced and hopped back to the theatre, and Brian Cranston appeared out of nowhere to give a quick narration. But there is no denying this is so beautiful to look at and cleverly produced with some sporadical humour.
Overall: 7 /10