Asteroid City Review: Wes Anderson has reignited the old magic with this tasty treat
With a filmography that boasts modern classics like The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Royal Tenenbaums, Wes Anderson’s cinematic universe is so instantly recognizable that he recently became the subject of a viral sensation, with users sharing videos of their daily lives on TikTok in the style of the films he created, complete with fast pans, symmetrical shots and that vibrant color palette.
When “Isle of Dogs” and “The French Dispatch” came out, it all seemed a little tired: A-listers making mini-cameos – lo and behold; W. Heath Robinson-like inventions – see; quirky characters – check…. But with Asteroid City, Anderson has revived its old magic and offered something new without sacrificing any of its defining characteristics. There’s a different energy to this film, and while retaining the usual charming whimsy we’re so used to, it feels more solid and palpable.
This is a movie within a movie (or a play within a play). It begins in black and white, with presenter Bryan Cranston standing on a small theater stage preparing the scene. He introduces the audience to playwright Conrad Earp (Edward Norton) and his two leads, Jones Hall (Jason Schwartzman) and Mercedes Ford (Scarlett Johansson). Then the New York theater disappears and the color credits for Asteroid City appear.
And wow, what colors! There’s no map or button too small to escape Anderson’s attention, the screen is saturated with enhanced hues. As the credits roll, Mercedes becomes Midge, a Hollywood star with her talented teenage daughter in tow; Jones is Augie Steenbeck, a widower traveling with his son Woodrow (aka Brainiac, played by Jake Ryan) and daughters Cassiopeia, Pandora and Andromeda, a committed trio with some of the film’s best lines.
Their wealthy and distant grandfather, Stanley Zak (Tom Hanks), meets them at the Stargazers convention in the desert. Listing the rest of the cast would take up too much space, but it includes veteran Anderson experts Adrien Brody as the theater director, Tilda Swinton as Dr. Hickenlooper and Willem Dafoe as drama teachers, plus newcomers Maya Hawke as June, a science teacher, and Rupert Friend as Montana, a handsome cowboy. June and Montana are just one of many romantic stories that intertwine in the Anderson-esque way we know so well.
Set in 1955, the film references the Cold War when atomic bomb tests were taking place just a few miles from Congress. Anderson capitalizes on the paranoia of the time when the government and military were caught up in the absolutely insane procedures. But he also captures the nation’s ambition and inventiveness through the teenagers at the convention. Looking back at black and white New York, Anderson points to Lee Strasberg’s theater school and the talent that grew out of it. There’s also a sci-fi twist: the Nevada desert is a popular spot for UFO sightings that’s being investigated by the US military.
Music plays a big part as always, with “Last Train to San Fernando” and “Freight Train” rounding out the film. Other musical treats include Montana and his friends performing a song by one of June’s charges while sitting on bales of hay and banging their banjos.
Anderson co-wrote the screenplay with Roman Coppola and they make a great team. They shuttle back and forth between the two parts of the story, deftly merging the East Coast plot with the desert tale, and the script is brimming with great writing and speeches, with one by Jeffrey Wright (another Anderson graduate student) particularly standing out as General Gibson .
This movie is so much fun and joy. While it seems as light as a soufflé, it’s a richer fare than Anderson has been serving up lately. It deserves a second and possibly a third serving.
104 mins, certificate PG
Asteroid City was screened at the 76th Cannes Film Festival
https://www.standard.co.uk/culture/film/asteroid-city-movie-review-wes-anderson-scarlett-johansson-edward-norton-b1082192.html Asteroid City Review: Wes Anderson has reignited the old magic with this tasty treat