Review: Asteroid City

It is always nice to experience a director’s distinct style, even when the film is quite bonkers.

Asteroid City is a play written about a widower and his family travelling to an isolated town in the desert to take part in a science stargazing event. But events certainly take a turn for the weird.

Directed by Wes Anderson, Asteroid City is a film determined to have the longest list of actors on its poster possible, including but certainly not limited to: Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, and Jeffrey Wright. Like so many of Anderson’s movies, “quirky” is the go-to descriptor of the movie, and audiences may find it confusing and tiring. But what it can also be called is funny and visually intriguing.

Anderson has a wonderful sense of theatre with his films, and this is no more apparent than in Asteroid City. The film opens with Bryan Cranston as a host for a theatre, introducing us, the audience, to the history of the story as written by Edward Norton’s Conrad Earp. Subsequently, the film takes a three act structure through the play in full colour, and behind-the-scenes of the production in black and white.
Indeed, Asteroid City isn’t just a film about weird people in the middle of the desert. The film indeed feels like Anderon’s most personal story yet; a movie-about-movies, of sorts.

The film is a kaleidoscope of pastel colours.

The film’s structure definitely strikes us as Anderson’s own thoughts on movie-making, channelling the essence of his own directorial manner. “Why does this happen?” would be answered with: “Don’t worry about it, just go with it”.

This ethos will not jive with everyone. It means a lot to Anderson, clearly. To make a film that is more of an experience than a particular story or event. To give the audience a chance to make of it what they will. Or to simply… make art, as weird and surreal as art can be some times. There’s no reason for it, other than to simply make it.
The film has a very eccentric and eclectic style, filled with characters who are deliberately odd and unorthodox. For example, a large portion of the cast are young actors playing science prodigies, who talk to each other in very deliberate, paced manners. This is completely in keeping with Anderson’s sensibilities, but this and the switching from “flashback” behind the scenes to the weird “on stage” film sections, will probably alienate some people.

As such, the film could use a second viewing, perhaps.

Symmetry is everywhere!

But the film is gorgeous. It has such a lovely pastel colour to everything. All colours are vibrant and deliberate. The camera motions are also very much Anderson’s style; pans, tracking shots, ninety-degree turns, and of course… almost of these transitions go from one symmetrical composition to another.
Indeed, symmetry is one of the director’s trademarks and it is delightful to look at. Even photographs, taken at different times in the movie and paired up later on, have a symmetry about them. You cannot escape the level of dedication to shot composition here.

The performances too, are delightfully weird. From Tilda Swinton’s twitchy scientist who finds like-mindedness with the child prodigies, to Steve Carell’s oddly omnipresent Hotel Manager. Heck, our protagonist’s three daughters are called Andromeda, Pandora, and Cassiopeia! They are all surreally portrayed, speaking in ways you wouldn’t expect them to, leading to a lot of head-scratch-worthy and amusing lines and jokes. There’s a lot of good humour here.

Overall, unless you are familiar with Anderson’s body of work, you will probably be taken aback in watching Asteroid City. It isn’t what you are expecting. Not the best from Anderson, but it was a fun time and maybe worth another watch.

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