Asteroid City Dir: Wes Anderson (Film Review)

If you’ve been caught up in the Barbenheimer frenzy, then your next film should be Asteroid City as it features both an A-bomb explosion and Margot Robbie.

Starring: Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Tilda Swinton, Bryan Cranston and a cast of thousands)

Asteroid City

Director Wes Anderson has risen to the occasion and created a film that can stand up, artistically, next to both Barbie and Oppenheimer.  Whether it hits the same box office pay dirt remains to be seen.

Anderson is one of those directors who’s highly stylized filmmaking folks seem to either love or hate. Up until now, he has always left me a bit cold…too self-aware, too pretentious with films like The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) and The Darjeeling Limited (2007) leaving me curious, but cold. I’d say my fave, up til now has been 2004’s The Life Aquatic with Zissou.

Like our friend Christopher Nolan, Anderson has several different ‘timelines’ running simultaneously through Asteroid City.

We open in glorious black & white with an announcer (Bryan Cranston) introducing a TV production of a new play by a writer named Conrad Earp (Edward Norton). This is set in mid-1955 and Anderson’s eye for detail in exquisite.  It’s proves to be even better when the screen explodes into widescreen colour and we watch the events that make up the play.

This is where the fun begins.

Anderson takes us to a very small fictional desert town (population 87)  called Asteroid City, that most likely, isn’t far from Roswell, New Mexico.

It’s there we meet photographer Augie Steenbeck (Jason Schwartzman) and his family (a teenage son and three young daughters) as they make their way to a Junior Stargazer Convention. Of course their car breaks down and Augie calls his father-in-law (Tom Hanks) to come rescue them.  We learn, early on, that Mrs Steenbeck is recently deceased, but Augie can’t bring himself to tell the kids….heart-breaking and odd…in other words, typical Wes Anderson.

Asteroid CityEventually we meet the other folks a this space age convention, most notable of whom is film actor Midge Campbell played deliciously by Scarlett Johansson and her teen daughter Dinah. Not surprisingly, Augie falls for Midge and his son, nicknamed “Brianiac”: falls for Dinah.

But this is much more than a romance.

The tiny town is overrun with quirky characters such as Dr. Hickenlooper a scientist played by Tilda Swinton, General Gibson, host of the convention, played by Jeffery Wright and J.J. Kellogg, another parent played by Liev Schreiber. I could go on, but I don’t want to give away too much.

I will say this, this is a film teeming with style, wit, character, surprises and ideas.

Not all are fully fleshed out, but there is plenty to sink your teeth into.

After all, who can resist a film that features a roadrunner, an alien, Jarvis Cocker,  an A-Bomb and a bombshell like Scarlett Johansson.

If you blink, you might miss something. I can imagine visiting Asteroid City again and again.

Marty Duda

Asteroid City Opens in NZ Cinemas August 10th.