With his brand new film, Asteroid City, Wes Anderson returns and along with him is a stacked cast with notable names throughout Hollywood. The film is not quite what it seems as it follows Augie Steenbeck (Jason Schwartzman) and his four children who visit Asteroid City for a Junior Stargazer event that one of the children competes in. When an inexplicable incident occurs during the festivities, the entire town is placed into quarantine as everyone’s perspective on life begins to change.
Wes Anderson is known for his quirky films, pastel tones, panned shots, and comforting aesthetics. Asteroid City is no different from any title on his filmography, and continues his use of unique visual storytelling in order to convey underlying themes and messages throughout the film. If there is anything to admire most from this film, it’s exactly that: the visuals. Asteroid City doesn’t start off in the way we’d assume, given what we know from trailers and marketing.
In fact, there’s a whole different setting presented to us and it’s then we realize what kind of story is being told as it alters between what can only be described as the stage and backstage. Transitions are used in a manner that has been used before but in a way that makes you feel like you’re watching two things at once, or perhaps one story with added commentary. The main downfall to the transitions is that it can often feel disconnected, with some scenes feeling empty as if they’re inserted without explanation or reason.
Thematically, Asteroid City is a bit all over the place but ultimately centers upon grief and our perspective of life. While it’s very easy to assume there is a right and wrong way to go about handling life as we grieve, the film attempts to shake us out of this mentality. At some point, we’ve all grieved before whether we realized it or not, and each in our own way. Rather than staying stuck and constantly considering if we’re doing anything right, all we can do is keep doing what we’re doing and keep moving forward. It’s a beautiful sentiment that is expressed briefly in the film through an interaction between characters portrayed by Jason Schwartzman and Adrien Brody that can be easily missed or brushed off as an insignificant moment.
But with that said, there are moments intended to be comedic or heartfelt that are pulled off well. The film is guaranteed to get the audience to smile or get us to nod our head in agreement in small moments of wisdom. However, there are moments that feel flat and absent of any value or punchline. Asteroid City attempts the “story within a story” formula in true Wes Anderson style but it often feels like overstuffed layers of meaningless moments to bury the intended message of the film. It gets to the point where instead of gradually peeling back the layers to allow the audience to fully understand the film’s purpose, we become lost in a convoluted story that somehow involves an alien that causes a shift in the tone of the film that feels off-center.
Outside of the visuals, the highlight of Asteroid City goes to the performances of the cast, particularly Jason Schwartzman and Scarlet Johansson, whose on-screen chemistry is incredibly odd and yet works well given the tone of the film. There’s also no forgetting Jake Ryan as Woodrow Steenbeck who perfectly nails being an adolescent teen trying to discover who they are and what they ultimately believe in. And with a cast that contains big names such Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Tom Hanks, and Tilda Swinton, it’s hard to ignore the variety and range of performances included throughout the film. Each serves their purpose to elevate the narrative as best as they can and try to fill in some of the gaping holes of the story and the themes it attempts to convey.
Asteroid City is ultimately a film that had potential but just barely missed the mark while focusing too hard to say so much yet so little under the guise of an alien story. Some say it’s Anderson’s version of NOPE which came out last year from Jordan Peele. Some say the film is a parallel to the quarantines people experienced at the height of the pandemic three years ago. However, I firmly believe Asteroid City is a film that discusses our life perception and how we accept the things that happen or don’t happen. But I also believe that it doesn’t require cloudy layers to speak your truth and intended message into the world. And as colorful and aesthetically pleasing Asteroid City is to the eyes, it is still one big cloud away from shining.
Asteroid City receives 3 out of 5 Samosas.
Asteroid City is now playing in theaters.
Runtime: 1h 45m
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