Asteroid City (2023)
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Jeff Goldblum is great in this.
Wes Anderson's existential throwback to 1950s B-movie science fiction, Asteroid City, is draped in a Road Runner cartoon aesthetic, but nevertheless plays as his trademark comedy of sadness (it's rather gloomy for such a sunny film). We're in the middle of nowhere, asking questions about our place in the universe, and not coincidentally, our lead is struggling with the death of his wife and what this means for his family. At the same time, the actor playing him (not to be confused with Jason Schwartzman who is playing HIM) struggles to understand the script. Because yes, Anderson adds a meta-textual layer by framing the film as a play, or rather as a documentary on the play that's also unfolding, a play who's second lead (Scarlett Johansson) also plays an actress, also working on a role that tends to blur the line. And yet, it's the younger members of the cast who most entertain, standing at a crossroads that is normal and natural (puberty), and therefore more adaptable to the strange circumstances of an alien first contact. An all-star cast, often in bit parts, strong and distinctive production design, you know the deal by now.
This is **** magnificent.
I love how almost every composition, every whip pan, and every aspect ratio change is a little joke or visual pun or running gag. No filmmaker since Tati has made such wonderful comedy out of cinematic language itself. And this is really bloody funny at times, including what may be, IMO the funniest sequence in the Anderson filmography (you'll know the one when you see it). Also, I adore the setting and how unabashedly Anderson embraces the theatricality of the piece - right up to framing it all as a 'play within a film'.
Was initially not sure about the framing story here, but I think as it progresses, it becomes a genuinely moving and uplifting story about the collaborative nature of art and storytelling and how something special can emerge out of all these people coming together almost by fluke. It also feels like a post-pandemic movie, in the sense of quarantine being such a central part of the 'a-plot', but also that sense of bringing all these amazing people together to just, well, make something. There's also a lot of heart in that 'a-plot' - it's as utterly deadpan and surface-level chilly as any Anderson film, but as it goes on it becomes full of burgeoning romance, surprising kinships, and even a look at people overcoming grief. If you thought French Dispatch was too clinical, there's probably more for you here.
That said, I'm not sure it'll have the extra-wide appeal of Grand Budapest, and it's an insular-looking film in some ways - there's certainly a sense of Anderson looking at and reflecting on his own creative process, and going deeper than ever on his stylistic eccentricities (it's a cliche to say it's the most Wes Anderson Wes Anderson has ever been... but the man only ever doubles down). There's a lot of film here to chew on, and it's a movie where some a-listers and brilliant character actors get only a scene (maybe even a shot) or two. Like every Anderson film, there's the sense that a rewatch is needed to full process the sheer volume of imagery and gags and - in this case - themes on display. But I for one couldn't get enough of it, and I'd easily put it in my top 3-5 Anderson joints.
to see which of your friends have seen this movie!