Asteroid City Review: An Eccentric and Daring Fusion of Comedy, Grief, and Close Encounters
There’s a peculiar charm to the desolation of the American Southwest, a charm that Wes Anderson captures and amplifies in his latest opus, “Asteroid City.” Here, nestled between California and Nevada, time seems to have warped, depositing viewers smack in the middle of the 1950s – an era of budding space exploration, Cold War anxiety, and the golden age of television.
“Asteroid City” is an intricate matryoshka of a film, stories within stories that create a layered narrative. At its heart is the earnest Augie (Jason Schwartzman), a war photographer turned grief-stricken single father. Set against the backdrop of a half-finished desert town hosting a Junior Stargazer convention, Augie’s personal turmoil interweaves with the eccentricities of the convention attendees, including Scarlett Johansson’s dramatic actress Midge Campbell and Maya Hawke’s vigilant teacher.
Tom Hanks delivers a solid performance as Augie’s supportive father-in-law. However, the real standouts are Schwartzman, offering a deeply empathetic performance, and Johansson, who brilliantly underplays her role to align with Anderson’s stylistic demands.
Yet, “Asteroid City” isn’t simply a tragicomic tableau of 1950s Americana. Anderson, in collaboration with co-writer Roman Coppola, boldly ventures into science fiction territory with the arrival of an extraterrestrial guest – a playful nod to 1950s B-movies. This unconventional twist, however, somewhat disrupts the emotional narrative, making the film’s exploration of personal relationships feel less urgent.
The distinct Anderson aesthetic is in full bloom here. His use of color versus monochrome to distinguish between the “real” world and the world within the teleplay is particularly effective. Every frame is meticulous, like a painterly tableau come to life – a testament to the combined prowess of director of photography Robert Yeoman and production designer Adam Stockhausen.
However, the film’s narrative structure feels overly complex at times, causing certain story threads to be resolved off-screen or not resolved at all. There are moments of brilliance, but they never quite coalesce into a satisfying whole, leaving the audience adrift amongst the multiple layers of narrative.
“Asteroid City” fits into the Wes Anderson canon as a beautifully crafted, narratively daring, but ultimately less resonant film. It’s packed with the familiar Anderson quirkiness, features a star-studded cast, and is visually stunning, but it lacks the emotional depth of some of his earlier works such as “The Royal Tenenbaums” or “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” His foray into sci-fi is ambitious, and though it’s executed with his signature style, the narrative disconnect leads to would-be emotional notes never hitting as clean as one would hope.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5
Asteroid City is in theaters everywhere June 23rd.