Set in 1955 in a fictional American town, Asteroid City has a whopping population of 87 people. The unbelievably small town is suddenly occupied by Augie Steebeck (Jason Schwartzman), a war photographer whose wife passed three weeks prior and his four children, a famous actress named Midge Campbell (Scarlett Johansson) and her daughter (Grace Edwards), and a Junior Stargazer/Space Cadet convention. The town is further disrupted when an out of this world event transpires that instantly becomes not only the talk of the town, but also the world.
Asteroid City is two stories playing out simultaneously; the story of the actual play is the film that unfolds in color while the behind the scenes work on the stage is in black and white and presented in a different aspect ratio.
The black and white portion of the film follows the host (Bryan Cranston) as he narrates, playwright Conrad Earp (Edward Norton) as he faces obstacles while writing the story, and director Schubert Green (Adrien Brody) as he struggles with his own personal demons.
The romantic dramatic comedy is divided into three acts; Act I: 7am, Act II: The Next Day, and Act III: A Week Later. As a big fan of Wes Anderson from 1998’s Rushmore to 2018’s Isle of Dogs and everything in between, it’s been largely disappointing that his last two films have been so boring. The French Dispatch is so exuberantly dull that it will put you to sleep and Asteroid City isn’t much better.
The humor and charm that has largely been incorporated into Anderson’s films is suddenly absent in his films after the turn of the most recent decade. The largely impressive casts are still as great as ever, but everyone seems to be playing the same sort of character. These heaping chunks of dialogue are spat out at a rapid pace as each on-screen character competes to be the quirkiest and most awkward individual anyone has ever seen in any film they’ve watched with their own two eyeballs.
It’s intriguing that the film is rated PG-13. Vulgarity is at an all-time low for an Anderson directed film. The film does feature about five seconds of a naked woman shown in her entirety, a plethora of smoking thanks to Jason Schwartzman’s Augie Steenbeck constantly smoking his pipe, and what is only referred to as, “suggestive material.” This likely stems from Augie’s father-in-law Stanley Zak (Tom Hanks) who seems to be hornier than anything and hits on any woman he shares the screen with.
General Grif Gibson (Jeffrey Wright) gives an incredible speech in the first half hour of the film that features some of the best writing of the entire screenplay. It also helps that Wright is rather animated in his delivery.
Without trying to spoil too much, the character Jeff Goldblum plays as well as a roadrunner that is very obviously a puppet are the highlights of the film.
Goldblum is basically a few minutes cameo, but the introduction of his character looks to have stop-motion infused into its performance that likely was rooted in Anderson’s experience making Fantastic Mr. Fox and Isle of Dogs. The roadrunner squawks, zips arounds, and literally just dances through the end credits.
There’s an extremely talented cast spread throughout Asteroid City. Filmed largely in Chinchón, Spain combined with several set pieces, the desert setting of Asteroid City is so small and yet one of the most beautiful settings Anderson has ever featured in one of his films.
Alexandre Desplat’s score, particularly a theme he keeps returning to that mostly sounds like the use of two xylophone keys over and over again, gives the film a palpable sense of imaginative wonder.
Even though the film has a fair share of chuckle worthy moments, Asteroid City shamelessly rolls around in its eccentricities and unapologetic blundering demeanor with no real depth or character development whatsoever. The gathering of extraordinary talent draws you in yet Asteroid City doesn’t deliver a story that’s fully worth telling.
- The visual aesthetic.
- Its whimsical score.
- The Roadrunner and the visitor.
- Is eccentrically boring.
- A great cast overpowers any sort of actual depth the film may have.