Wes Anderson’s twee meter doesn’t have a red zone.
The auteur’s films are as precious as they are divisive. You love ‘em or hate ‘em, the in-between crowd hardly exists. Nor is Anderson reaching out to the unconvinced with his latest effort.
“Asteroid City” represents more of the same. Mostly.
Same embarrassment of riches in the casting department (Tom Hanks! Scarlett Johansson!!). Same camera framing that’s become the hallmark of the Anderson method (much like the Ken Burns effect in documentaries).
Another color palette you’ll never forget once you’ve seen it.
The difference this time around? How the film intersects, perhaps by accident, with the tenor of the times.
Once again Anderson’s cast dutifully recreates the director’s droll method, a far cry from the Method method.
Jason Schwartzman co-stars as Augie Steenbeck, a war photographer holding back the news of his wife’s passing from his children. He drops by the quaint small town of Asteroid City so his oldest son can compete in the annual Junior Stargazer Convention.
And, at some point, he’ll tell him and the family’s three adorable girls about their mother’s fate.
Also on hand for the convention? General Grif Gribson (Jeffrey Wright, adding a fast-talking twist to Anderson’s banter), Scarlett Johansson as a jaded movie starlet named Midge and Tilda Swinton seeming … normal amidst the “Napoleon Dynamite”-level players.
There’s more, of course, including Liev Schreiber, Matt Dillon (funny but under-employed) and Bryan Cranston narrating the theatrical framing device enveloping the story. Oh, it’s endlessly clever, droll and twee.
Then an alien swoops into town, makes a jaw-dropping appearance and zips away. Suddenly, the characters must assess the new situation in light of their trauma while the U.S. military locks the small town down.
Is Anderson commenting on government overreach in the age of COVID-19? It seems unlikely. Anderson is committed to depicting dysfunctional families, not culture war bromides. The commentary lands all the same.
“Asteroid City” makes us keenly aware of the creative temperament and the various filters that exist between actor and audience. It’s an artist revealing all the ways a story mutates en route to the audience.
Layers upon layers. You’ll get lost in them, and getting out isn’t as easy as it looks.
— Total Film (@totalfilm) June 22, 2023
Anderson’s latest isn’t as humorous as “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” but the former has its moments. A sudden musical number, for example, is explosively funny. Anderson’s humor, when dialed in, is unlike anything else in the creative marketplace. It’s neither raw nor predictable, and no one comes close to his style of delivery.
That’s probably wise. Quentin Tarantino imitators duplicate the grind house violence without the wit and style. Imagine a half-baked Anderson tribute?
The growing bond between Schwartzman and Johansson should be the film’s moral compass, but Anderson won’t let his characters breathe, short circuiting his intentions.
The film’s waning moments suggest more dramatic knots than a single viewing can untangle, meaning Anderson devotees have a whole new reason to watch “Asteroid City” as many times as needed.
HiT or Miss: “Asteroid City” will frustrate those who resist the Wes Anderson cult. Longtime fans will relish its curated collection of characters and note how the filmmaker may be expanding his reach, even if it’s accidental.