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Review: 'Asteroid City'

Updated: Jun 19, 2023

Wes Anderson is a cult director.

His movies are very personal with a style and look of their own. They are quirky and offbeat, identifiably so. Five minutes into a Wes Anderson movie, you know that you’re watching a Wes Anderson movie.

His unique direction and vision are unmistakable. His imagination is out there and up there on the multiplex screen. He creates alternate realities and characters that are charming and amusing and sometimes unforgettable. You don’t find them anywhere else.

For the record, his filmography includes: Bottle Rocket (1996), Rushmore (1998), The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), Moonrise Kingdom (2012), The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) and The French Dispatch (2021).

Consequently, A-List Hollywood talent line up to appear in a Wes Anderson movie. The regulars include the likes of Adrian Brody, Tilda Swinton, Jeffrey Wright, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson, and Lea Seydoux. It’s a dream team of acting talent available at Wes Anderson’s beckoned call.

It’s good to be Wes Anderson. You have the unbridled freedom to create anything that your fertile imagination can produce, and a willing and able stable of actors and actresses waiting for you to ring them up.

That is not to say that Wes Anderson movies are for everyone. They tend to be intellectual and “artsy,” aiming for that rarified part of the stratosphere where only a small handful of brainy yet funny comedies exist.

These are not your run-of-the-mill, formulaic movie comedies that Hollywood endlessly cranks out. Wes Anderson’s name above the credits means something special to his legion of fans.

I can be counted among his disciples. If you’re into Wes Anderson, his oddball take is often sublimely and riotously funny.

It’s a path that is difficult to walk though. In the case of Asteroid City, you could argue that Wes Anderson wanders off and gets lost in the complexity of his own creation. It’s a movie with a dozen sub-plots, not unlike many of his previous movies with a collection of whacky, wonderful characters sprung fresh and fully formed from the deep recesses of Wes Anderson’s mind.

What’s different here is that the characters and sub-plots seem to spin off in entirely different directions like the sparkling, glittering trails of flashing gunpowder from a fireworks display.

They emanate from what seems to be a sure-fire comedy premise ripe with possibilities.

As the trailers revealed, Asteroid City is a fictional place in the middle of the desert, in the middle of the last century where an ancient asteroid was discovered. Its presence has attracted both scientists and the general public who are drawn to the area out of a sense of sheer wonder and curiosity. The mix of people is diverse, each with their own backstories and reasons to journey to Asteroid City, ostensibly for a science convention.

Asteroid City is a place of mystery, a place to contemplate our place in the vast universe and whether we might be the only intelligent creatures occupying it.

In Wes Anderson’s world, where anything seems possible, we sense that we aren’t, and that a mind-blowing event at Asteroid City will forever change the lives of everyone who witnessed it. No spoilers here.

Fans will love Wes Anderson’s latest twisted tale with its signature, whimsical Wes Anderson touches—the colorfulness and cuteness. It’s a world of flashback Fifties color and style that are pure eye candy.

As always, the cast is a Who’s Who list of top Hollywood talent, each having fun inventing their own characters and mini-story lines.

The problem with Asteroid City is that it never really comes together as a coherent whole. While the busy content and characters worked in Anderson’s past movies, there may have been mistake in pushing it all too far here. Granted, the characters and subplots are all amusing and odd, but they fail to form the framework of a larger story with overall sense of narrative coherence.

What Asteroid City offers are a group of oddball characters in search of story, or perhaps the story within the story since the movie is a full-color background piece that begins in a theater setting filmed in black and white, narrated by Bryan Cranston.

Sound confusing? It is. And unnecessarily so. Yes, it’s another weird, strange alternate universe that only Wes Anderson could conceive and bring to the big screen.

It’s an offering of characters and scenes that draw you in, piece by piece, despite the fact that the pieces of this puzzle never really fit together in the end.

But that might be asking a lot of a filmmaker who has made a career out of being unpredictable and unconventional and is a movie genre unto himself.

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