Dir: Wes Anderson. Starring: Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Jeffrey Wright, Tilda Swinton, Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, Liev Schreiber, Hope Davis, Stephen Park, Rupert Friend, Maya Hawke, Steve Carell, Matt Dillon, Hong Chau, Willem Dafoe, Margot Robbie, Tony Revolori, Jake Ryan, Jeff Goldblum | US Comedy drama
Wes Anderson has a dedicated following but even diehard fans were put off by his 2021 film The French Dispatch, with its over-talky, complicated structure. In contrast Asteroid City is so exuberant, nostalgic and lovely to look at the sheer dynamism is sure to endear it to even Anderson sceptics although some complained, at the Cannes press screening, it lacked an ‘involving storyline’. This is a movie that is constantly on the move with Anderson’s regular A-list cast and candy-coloured eye-popping visuals that just make you gawp in amazement for two hours in a film about a play within a TV show .
Once again the narrative unfolds through multiple framing devices with Bryan Cranston introducing the show in a black and white opening scene where we meet Conrad Earp. (Norton) He is the playwright of the 1950s story we are about to watch which then bursts on the screen in a dazzling blast of technicolour transporting us to the mythical desert location of Asteroid City famous for its massive meteor crater and observatory for stargazers eager to see the Milky Way. It’s also a military testing ground for atomic weapons, pioneered by the serene scientist Tilda Swinton. There is a textbook style alien (Jeff Goldblum) whose appearance causes Jeffrey Wright’s army commander to launch an investigation. But Adrien Brody and Willem Dafoe get left on the sidelines in nondescript cameos.
But the film’s focus is Augie Steenbeck (Jason Schwartzman), a melancholy, pipe-smoking photographer and recent widower who arrives with his children, and his wife’s ashes, in a retro shooting-break that promptly blows a gasket. Butch mechanic Matt Dillon scratches his head unable to mend the vehicle so Augie asks his father in law Stanley (Tom Hanks) for help, meanwhile falling for Scarlett Johansson’s luminescent but lonely Hollywood star Midge, in scenes that plays out like a psychedelic version of Psycho. The nostalgia comes from the music – Rupert Friend is the crooning cowboy – the all round aesthetic and the upbeat gaiety that recalls a time when America was great and led the way in all things cutting edge, including scientific breakthroughs and space travel, but still had decency and family values at its heart. MT
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