Eclectic writer and director Wes Anderson added science fiction and western to the vast list of genres he mastered with his newest film “Asteroid City” when it released on June 22. Filled with Anderson’s unique style, humor and ability to stack a cast, “Asteroid City” is rich in emotion, relatability and even a bit of existentialism.
As a longtime fan of Anderson’s movies, I eagerly awaited this newest addition to his collection. His films are extraordinary for plot and substance but especially their vivid colors, use of symmetry and overall cohesive style, which make each of his films instantly recognizable as a “Wes Anderson movie.”
But Anderson’s movies aren’t always for everyone. If you’re not used to his quick, flat sense of humor or odd storylines, you might leave the theater feeling confused and lost within his pieces. “Asteroid City,” while beautiful, was a movie that made even me go back and think about certain parts.
Loosely, “Asteroid City” follows a family of four and their arrival in the titular Asteroid City for a junior science convention set in the American desert of the 1950s. While there, they explore their relationships both with themselves, other junior science lovers and even aliens.
I was reminded of the humor and antics of “Royal Tenenbaums” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox” while watching the film due to the film’s clever one-liners and focus on family issues. But I found more similarities in terms of cinematography with “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “The French Dispatch.”
Maybe it was the color scheme or overall filming, but “Asteroid City” had the two-dimensional feel and vibrancy of “The Grand Budapest Hotel” while also exploring the emotional depth and storytelling capacities of film noir. Such a technique illuminated certain ideas to audience members, while hiding the very same details from characters. This trait mimicked cinematography found in “The French Dispatch,” but I felt it worked better in Anderson’s most recent movie because it acted as a narrator who fit in with the overarching plot rather than being a standout scene or idea.
Narrators are common in Anderson’s movies, but “Asteroid City” was unique in that its narrator had a subplot that stood on its own and added insight into the decisions and actions of the main characters. Other Anderson movies like “The French Dispatch” tried a similar idea but without the depth found in “Asteroid City.”
However, this switching from black-and-white to color, or subplot to the main plot, was slightly confusing at times. Even when the grayscale scenes spoke about the main plot, it felt like an entirely different story and struggled to fit cohesively with the colored scenes. While this may have been intentional — and surely felt that way toward the end of the film — it was a little difficult to get used to.
I thought this change in color grading worked particularly well in scenes that involved more introspective examinations of the movie. Lines delivered by these characters seemed to look inward into Anderson himself or the fears of the audience. Without giving too much away, these scenes offered a reassuring voice to sooth the feelings of doubt that often accompany mold-breaking actions and creative endeavors.
The line “your pictures always play,” said by Jason Schwartzman’s character, stood out to me as a self-reference by Anderson. Even though his movies get produced and do well at the box office, the line hints he may have some doubt for their success as he constantly challenges the conventions of modern filmmaking.
Aside from its examination of the self and self-doubt, “Asteroid City” also speaks to greater issues of acceptance and empathy, especially in a time where so many lose out on respect due to race, sexual orientation or gender and many other reasons.
While Asteroid City’s characters may have been talking about an alien, their acceptance and empathy for a creature unknown to them could inspire audience members to do the same in the future. Subtle calls to areas where people may not feel respected was a nice touch, including many references to queer relationships and immigrants.
Like other Anderson films, the acting in “Asteroid City” is nothing short of well done, and it was fun to pick out recurring actors like Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody and Schwartzman, who’s been in almost every Anderson film to date.
There are also new faces, most notably Tom Hanks, Scarlet Johansson and Maya Hawke. Hanks’ character mimicked many of the roles played by Bill Murray in other Anderson films as he took the persona of an aloof father-in-law more worried about himself than others.
Additionally, Steve Carrell made an appearance, bringing the signature sense of humor he’s best known for without feeling out of place in an Anderson movie.
Overall, I thoroughly loved Anderson’s newest movie, “Asteroid City” for its pastel vision of the wild west, its subject matter and relatability while also feeling otherworldly. His films are truly works of art appreciated for their creativity and style, even by those who don’t always seek out his movies.
Bold but playful, “Asteroid City” showcased Anderson’s creativity as a director and writer.