June 24, 2023

“Asteroid City” is a Methodical Filmmaker at the Top of His Game (Review)

Given time and opportunity, the best filmmakers are able to hone their craft and create a unique reputation for themselves within the cinematic sphere. It’s difficult to think of a modern director with a more recognizable visual style than Wes Anderson. A slew of AI-generated videos have recently attempted to capture said style, but what those lack are the soulful core of what Anderson imbues every frame of his films with, and that sort of thing is impossible to digitally replicate.

Anderson’s latest is Asteroid City, which I see as the culmination of years spent establishing and sharpening the aforementioned style. It features an impressive cast of both Anderson regulars and newcomers alike, all of whom are fully committed to the very particular way of speaking and acting that has come to define Anderson’s characters. What sets Asteroid City apart is that, while some of his other films occupy a specific world all their own, here there is a narrative purpose behind the strangeness, which brings a whole new dimension to what we’re seeing. There doesn’t always have to be a story-motivated reason behind the design, but in this case, I find it fascinating that Anderson has decided to go that route, and I wonder what it could mean for the stories he decides to tell in the future.

Of course, it’s not just about Wes Anderson (even though no other filmmaker could have even dreamed of making Asteroid City). The production design is one of the biggest reasons this movie even works, because the immersion needs to be complete in order to buy into its surreal reality. The cast is absolutely stellar, filling in the colorful scenery with a crew of A-listers that includes Jason Schwartzman, Tom Hanks, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton and Steve Carell. This might give Barbie and Oppenheimer (which will both be released on the same weekend in July) a run for their money in terms of all-star ensembles.

I can’t pretend that I understand all of Anderson’s intentionality when it comes to Asteroid City, but what I can do is appreciate what I love about the way he makes art. Every line of dialogue is loaded either with symbolism, dark humor or a mix of the two, and the entire film seems to revel in the absurd, a sandbox that Anderson is now an old hand at playing in.

Needless to say, this may beat out The French Dispatch as the most Wes Anderson has ever been. Fans of his signature style (myself included) will fall over themselves in love and amazement at the achievement that Asteroid City is. Consequently, those who don’t jive with Anderson’s methodology may find it harder than usual to connect to his dispassionate characters and odd, multi-faceted world.

Asteroid City is unapologetically Wes Anderson, though, and that deeply personal touch is something I will always respect.

Asteroid City is playing now in theaters.

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