An attractive disappointment from the brilliant Wes Anderson.
Here’s the big cast in Wes Anderson’s latest comedy “Asteroid City.” You have Anderson regulars Jason Schwartzmann, Scarlett Johansson, Jeffrey Wright, Tilda Swinton, Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, Liev Schreiber, Stephen Park, Willem Dafoe, Tony Revolori, Jake Ryan, Bob Balaban, Fisher Stevens, and Jeff Goldblum. And you have newcomers Tom Hanks, Hope Davis, Rupert Friend, Steve Carell (replacing a Covid-stricken Bill Murray), Matt Dillion, Maya Hawke, Hong Chau, Rita Wilson, and Margot Robbie.
So all these great talents should sell his movie, but unfortunately, as much as I always loved his work (with “Moonrise Kingdom” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” making my Best of 2010s list), his latest film is all looks and less substance.
I’m gazing at the shot of the train in the opening credits, as it makes its way to the fictional 1955 town of “Asteroid City,” which is located in the desert where the asteroid collided and left a trademark. They even celebrate that holiday in Asteroid Day.
And I’m also entertained by how Cranston plays a black-and-white television host who presents the following story in the form of a televised play.
But I’m not reading the following characters as well as I would for Anderson’s best on-screen characters. Yes, they earn some chuckles and some of the performances are charming, but they don’t stand out the way the filmmaker intends. The attractive look of the film seems to upstage them.
Schwartzmann plays a war photographer named Augie Steenbeck, who arrives in Asteroid City with son Woodrow (Ryan), three daughters, and a busted car for the Junior Stargazer convention. He admits to them about their mother’s passing, and he asks his father-in-law (Hanks) to come over to watch the kids.
Next, he has a romance with a TV actress named Midge Campbell (Johansson), who arrives in town with her daughter. She has the black hair and sunglasses to make her look like she should be on a “Lolita” poster.
And then, Asteroid City is visited by an alien who takes the famous meteorite, and is a CGI/stop-motion creature in black. He looks like a perfect cartoon spy, especially the way he poses for a picture. And because of his visit (that is if I can use the word “his”), the town is under quarantine.
Other characters in the town include a Cowboy (Friend) who is smitten with a school teacher (Hawke); a motel manager (Carell) who has vending machines including one that sells land (for $10 in quarters); the General Grif Gibson (Wright) who orders the quarantine; and an observatory scientist (Swinton). And the black-and-white segments feature Brody as a director, Norton as a playwright, Robbie as an actress, Dafoe as an acting teacher, and Goldblum as the actor who plays the alien, and some of the main actors play the characters in this televised play. For example; Schwartzmann plays Jones Hall who plays Steenbeck, while Johansson plays Mercedes Ford who plays Campbell.
I don’t intend to annoy you readers by saying how Anderson gives the town a Roadrunner feel, especially when he adds shots of the real bird. He has the right team to make his fictional town a great place to visit. And I admired the performances from Schwartzmann, Johansson, Hanks, Cranston, Ryan, and Carell.
“Asteroid City” is something I wanted to love because of how much I love Anderson’s films, but it’s something that didn’t speak to me. The kids are inferior to the ones presented in “Moonrise Kingdom,” and the story is all over the place. The trick to a perfect movie in his filmography is to take us to his visionary worlds and to have the kind of whimsical and low key characters to charm us along the way.
Maybe next time, buddy.