Directed by: Wes Anderson
Written by: Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola
Starring: Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Jeffrey Wright, Tilda Swinton, Brian Cranston, Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, Liev Scheiber
Released: August 10, 2023
Grade: B+

Asteroid City

I recently had a chance to visit the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City where the exhibits included an “auditory collage” blending sounds of Germany with sounds of Nigeria, a giant human hologram to help us imagine other bodies, and an “assemblage” where everyday objects are combined to create something different and symbolic.  It’s not for everyone and I can’t purport to understand the deeper significance… but I love modern art for its randomness, originality, and thought-provoking nature.

Writer-director Wes Anderson has been leaning into that mentality his entire career.  He’s established his own warped, weird, wacky style and, to put it bluntly, you either get it… or you don’t.  My personal favourite is The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou but it’s also hard to overlook films like The Royal Tenenbaums, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and The Grand Budapest Hotel.  His trademarks include quirky narratives, big casts, colourful sets, and distinctive camera work.  They’re not massive box-office hits but in going against the grain of most Hollywood fare, he’ll always have a fan in me.

Asteroid City is his latest outing and it’s everything you’d expect from Anderson.  The story is about an eclectic group of people visited by a UFO in a tiny American township in 1955.  There’s also a story-outside-the-story centred on a playwright trying to develop a new work.  The cast includes a dozen Academy Award nominees including Scarlett Johansson as a high-profile actress, and Tom Hanks as a concerned grandfather.  The crew is headlined by past collaborators including composer Alexandre Desplat (who won an Oscar for The Grand Budapest Hotel), and cinematographer Robert Yeoman (who has now worked with Anderson nine times).

The screenplay lacks the emotional depth of some other Anderson flicks (can’t say I really cared about anyone here), but I enjoyed Asteroid City for its eccentricity and bizarre humour.  You’re never quite sure where it’s going, the criss-crossing between the two worlds is interesting, and the offbeat character interactions earn plenty of chuckles.  I’ve read a few online articles delving into the film’s meaning and symbolism but, just like the exhibits at MoMA, parts flew unknowingly over my head.

Asteroid City is a little unfulfilling but still a fun adventure.