Shadow
Wes Anderson’s latest should satisfy his hands, even if his style is starting to overtake the substance.

Asteroid City

Release Date: June 23, 2023
Runtime: 01:44
Synopsis:
Following a writer on his world famous fictional play about a grieving father who travels with his tech-obsessed family to small rural Asteroid City to compete in a stargazing event, only to have his world view disrupted forever.

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The attendees of a youth astronomy convention find themselves quarantined after an encounter with aliens in Asteroid City. Asteroid City is a small desert town known for being the site of the arid plains meteorite. Many Junior Stargazers and their parents descend upon the town for Asteroid Day, including photographer and recent widower Augie Steenbeck (Jason Schwartzman) and his son Woodrow (Jake Ryan) and three daughters. Augie's car breaks down along the way, requiring him to call his cantankerous father-in-law Stanley Zak (Tom Hanks) for a ride. While in Asteroid City, Augie becomes enamoured with actress Midge Campbell (), who is in town with her Junior Stargazer daughter Dinah ().

Amid the Asteroid Day celebrations led by General Grif Gibson (), a UFO drops down over the crater and an alien (Jeff Goldblum) takes the arid plains meteorite. As the alien encounter is investigated, everyone in the town is placed under quarantine. During this time, Augie contemplates his future with his family after the death of his wife.

Asteroid City Synopsis

Asteroid City is the latest film from writer and director Wes Anderson. The film is arguably the most meta of Anderson's films, as the plot utilizes a black-and-white framing device, where an anonymous television host () describes the main plot as a dramatization of a play by legendary playwright Conrad Earp (). This results in most of the film's cast playing double roles as the actors in the play and their characters.

The small town of Asteroid City only has a population of 87, including the mechanic Hank (Matt Dillon), the eccentric motel manager (Steve Carell), and local observatory scientist Dr. Hickenlooper (). As part of Asteroid Day, the city is visited by the Junior Stargazers, Woodrow, Grace, Clifford (), Shelly (), and Ricky (), along with their parents Augie Steenbeck, Midge Campbell, J.J. Kellogg (), Sandy Borden (Hope Davis), and Roger (Stephen Park). Other visitors, who end up trapped during the quarantine, include the class of school teacher June Douglas (Maya Hawke), who becomes enamoured with singing cowboy Montana (Rupert Friend).

My Thoughts on Asteroid City

Throughout his nearly three-decade-long career, Wes Anderson has developed a signature style, which ends up being his film's main appeal, while also being their main hindrance. When comparing Anderson's early films Bottle Rocket and Rushmore to later efforts like Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and The French Dispatch, it is obvious that in many cases the style has become more important than the substance.

Similar to how his previous film The French Dispatch had different chapters based on various magazine articles, Asteroid City is divided by various scenes of the titular play that the film is an apparent dramatization of. This results in there being a number of behind-the-scenes asides, including a class by a renowned acting teacher Saltzburg Keitel (Willem Dafoe) or the various actors discussing the directions of their characters, including Augie Steenbeck actor Jones Hall having a heart-to-heart with the actress who played his wife (Margot Robbie).

While there is still a certain appeal to Wes Anderson's films, he personally peaked for me with The Grand Budapest Hotel nearly a decade ago. That said, I did enjoy the few instances Anderson incorporated his love of stop-motion animation into the narrative, particularly through a recurring roadrunner and the visiting alien, the latter of which is played by a costumed Jeff Goldblum in the behind-the-scenes sections.

Another key element of Wes Anderson's films is his ensemble cast, which seems to get larger with each film, with Asteroid City adding the likes of Tom Hanks, Scarlett Johansson, Maya Hawke, and Steve Carrell. Carell's motel manager was originally meant to be played by longtime Wes Anderson collaborator Bill Murray, who dropped out due to scheduling conflicts, though a recent controversy involving inappropriate behaviour by Murray on set probably didn't help things. Frankly, I thought Steve Carrell did a fine job and Bill Murray's presence wasn't really missed.

Ultimately, I would say that Asteroid City is a film that should appeal to those who are longtime fans of Wes Anderson. However, I am starting to wish that the filmmaker would adjust his style one of these days. You can only make bright and symmetrical films for so long before they start appearing like self-parody.

Trailer for Asteroid City

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Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly is a freelance film critic and blogger based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.