Asteroid City Movie Review (2023)

Wes Anderson is known for his highly stylized films, and while some critics argue that his visual design sometimes overshadows emotional credibility, “Asteroid City” proves to be a delightful exception. Anderson’s latest collaboration with cinematographer Robert Yeoman is a visual feast, arguably the most incandescently beautiful film in their repertoire so far.

However, what truly sets this film apart is its substantial emotional impact. It’s like experiencing the delicate touch of a gorgeous butterfly followed by a sudden and unexpected squeeze on the heart.

The Ingenious Conception of the Film

“Asteroid City” introduces us to Conrad Earp, a fictional playwright portrayed by Edward Norton, who is known for writing hit plays. The film opens in black-and-white, mimicking a TV documentary set in an unspecified era in the United States.

Bryan Cranston narrates the faux documentary, recounting the story of “Asteroid City,” a play by Carter Earp, presented by Anderson with gorgeous color and widescreen cinematography.

Impeccable Visual Design and Attention to Detail

As with Anderson’s previous works, the settings in “Asteroid City” are exquisitely crafted and visually stunning. The film takes place at a remote Western meteor crash site hosting a Space Camp for scholastically gifted teens.

The geographical beauty of the desert, with its vibrant orange hues and cloudless blue skies, mirrors the film’s aesthetics—like indulging in a Creamsicle on a sunny day. Every detail, from the diner front to the vending machines, is meticulously crafted and contributes to the overall aesthetic coherence.

Engaging Characters and Their Intriguing Traits

Anderson expertly weaves a tapestry of characters and their idiosyncrasies into a compelling narrative that never loses its momentum. The Space Camp participants, with their futuristic inventions and personal dramas, capture our attention.

Woodrow, played by Jake Ryan, struggles with the loss of his mother while competing for a scholarship. His connection with Dinah, portrayed by Grace Edwards, creates a heartfelt and initially awkward bond. Other Stargazers, such as Ricky Cho and Clifford Kellogg, bring their own distinct issues to the mix, adding depth to the storyline.

Human Drama and Alien Encounters

Augie Steenback, brilliantly portrayed by Jason Schwartzman, grapples with grief alongside his father-in-law Stanley (Tom Hanks) and his children, all while negotiating with the weight of their loss. Their emotional journey is interspersed with two visits from an alien spacecraft, which introduces the idea of intelligent life beyond Earth.

However, this newfound knowledge doesn’t offer solutions but instead deepens their emotional struggle, forcing them to remain in the desert for an extended period.

Stellar Performances and Existential Questions

Scarlett Johansson delivers an utterly beguiling performance, blending enigmatic and quietly blunt qualities to her character, Midge Campbell. Schwartzman’s portrayal of Augie demonstrates a new maturity, showcasing his range as an actor. His dual role, playing both Augie and the actor cast to portray him in the play, adds complexity to his performance and enhances the overall viewing experience.

As the film progresses, the narrative gravitates toward the universal question of the meaning of life. Anderson masterfully weaves this existential query throughout the storyline, prompting the characters, and subsequently the audience, to ponder their purpose. The film poses thought-provoking statements like, “I don’t understand the play,” and poignant questions such as, “Am I doing it right?”

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A Sui Generis Masterpiece

“Asteroid City” presents a captivating gallery of characters, each exploring different aspects of art and life, all in pursuit of doing it right. This film stands as a unique and remarkable creation, drawing inspiration from cinematic classics like “Our Town” and “Citizen Kane.”

By the end, it evokes the voice of another master—Jean Renoir’s “The Golden Coach.” Recommending “Asteroid City” to a dear friend, I couldn’t help but compare it to Renoir’s masterpiece, highlighting the film’s celebration and contemplation of performance as life and life as performance. “Asteroid City” truly deserves the highest praise—it’s that good.

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