[Film review] Asteroid City

Review by John P. Harvey.

Asteroid City wanders around and within a cultural clash in 1955 between a variety of representative north Americans, a puzzling alien, and the U.S. military.  When a group of child stargazers and some of their parents arrive at Asteroid City for an annual ceremony at which the U.S. military distributes a scholarship and prizes to bright young student inventors, everybody is surprised by an alien dropping in on the event.

Asteroid City’s central tale — which, in classic Greek format, has a beginning, a middling, and suggestions of an ending — is framed within a more sober narrative (and behind-the-scenes scenes) on the process of writing, rehearsing, and staging the play Asteroid City.  It’s Wes Anderson’s latest filmmaking adventure, and comes across as a retro SF family comedy with mystery elements.

Asteroid City stars many of Anderson’s staples, and it’s interesting to see how actors who for other directors can be far more expressive contribute to Anderson’s typically deadpan delivery and uniformly unemotional chemistry.  As you might expect, the film showcases Anderson’s penchant for incomplete scenes, and in this film he has chosen to juxtapose monochrome film and high-key, high-temperature, highly saturated colours somewhat whitened and with limited sharpness, the whole suggesting ageing 1950s film stock.  The play within the film, emanating from playwright Conrad Earp’s (Edward Norton) pen, has an almost cardboard quality, its characters minimally filled in and the story’s setting blending a stage set and an external desert location.  Whilst the tale contains many amusing moments, its self-reflectiveness — complete with an on-screen audience — offers a whimsicality all of its own exceeding that of Anderson’s gem The Grand Budapest Hotel and perhaps even of The French Dispatch.

As you might expect of an Anderson movie, its various odd elements combine to make Asteroid City a humorous oddity altogether.  As long as that doesn’t disturb you and you don’t mind a narrative thread with a few loose ends, it’s a tale you can enjoy both as it plays and in mulling it over afterwards.

Screening at Dendy, Palace, Hoyts, and Limelight cinemas.

Liked it? Take a second to support John P. Harvey on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!

Leave a Reply