13 June 2024
Steve Carrel in Asteroid City out in UK Cinemas 23rd June

Film Review – Asteroid City (2023)

I don’t understand the play,” says a bewildered actor, played by Jason Schwartzman, to its director, Adrien Brody. “It doesn’t matter. Just carry on,” comes the reply. That brief conversation from Wes Anderson’s latest, Asteroid City, will strike a chord with even the most ardent of his fans. Because there are simply times when you have to abandon any attempt to explain his films rationally and respond more viscerally. Ironically, this time round, you can do either. Or both.

The city of the title is set in the middle of a searingly hot desert where, 3,000 years ago, a meteorite fell to earth and created a giant crater. The US government in the 1950s has turned it into a tourist attraction with an observatory attracting visitors from all over the country. But it’s also a town where strange things regularly happen – atomic bombs are tested nearby – and when a particularly odd event takes place, it’s closed, placing confining all the visitors behind a cordon. Under military rule and forced to live together whether they like it or not, they start to rebel.

That’s the narrative, but this is a film which revels in its conceit, the proverbial play within a play – or, in this case, the play within a film. Anderson feeds us the play in black and white, moving to the harshest of sun soaked colour for the film, which occupies the majority of the storyline. The sun is so strong you might want to wear shades and it’s the basis for a startling palette, one that’s perfectly in tune with Anderson’s distinctive visuals – the tiny details, moments of perfect symmetry and scenes of such intricacy that it demands a second look. At the same time, he retains his familiar, flat toned dialogue and sense of the ridiculous so that, while he keeps a firm hold on a style he’s made his own, this time – unlike in The French Dispatch – there’s a sense of him developing and expanding it instead of just repeating the same formula.

His sense of fun is never far away, from the town’s regular farcical events to a comedy country and western band which boasts Jarvis Cocker, no less, on washboard. And the cast list is perhaps one of the most extensive he’s ever assembled, from regulars like Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, Edward Norton and Tilda Swinton, to even more new faces – Scarlett Johansson as an actress with more than a touch of Judy Garland about her, Tom Hanks as a wealthy businessman and Steve Carell as the ingratiating manager of the visitors’ accommodation. With such an vast array of characters, there’s a danger that some will just end up being cameos or simply under-used. It’s a tribute to the huge amount of talent on show that only one of them falls to prey to this. The sad thing is that it’s Jeff Goldblum, a natural for an Anderson film if ever there was one.

Yes, it’s eccentric, yes, it’s elegant and, despite one of its many sub-plots, it’s also as short as ever on emotion. But the audience responds with feeling, be it to the sadness that goes with Tom Hanks’ storyline or amusement at the film’s 1950’s soundtrack – the classic Last Train To San Fernando is just one. Best of all is a superbly funny piece of CGI which deserves an awards category all of its own – Best Supporting Performance by a CGI roadrunner. It finishes the film with an irresistibly comic dance, and you won’t be able to get that image, or the tune that goes with it, out of your head. The same goes for the film overall.

★★★★


Comedy | UK cinemas, 23 June 2023 | Universal Studios | Cert:12A | Dir: Wes Anderson |Ensemble cast including Tom Hanks, Steve Carell, Tilda Swinton, Scarlett Johansson, Margot Robbie, Liev Schreiber, Edward Norton, Jeffrey Wright.

The Asteroid City Exhibition runs until 8th July at 180 Studios, 180 The Strand, London. Tickets and information available via: https://www.180studios.com/asteroid-city


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