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Wes Anderson's "Asteroid City" Review and Analysis

The summer of 2023 has a shockingly packed schedule for movie releases with major films such as Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer and a new installment in the Indiana Jones franchise looming to make big impacts at the box office. Amongst all of this excitement for major blockbuster films, Wes Anderson has thrown his hat in the ring as well with his most visually appealing creation yet. 


“Asteroid City,” is the name of the newest film written and directed by Wes Anderson, a wonderfully hilarious and equally somber tale. The movie has a very unique concept in that it is a play written and performed on stage in the film. The structure of the film is quite genius, flipping between the popping colors Anderson is known for during the scenes and acts from the play and providing backstory for the actors and playwright in between acts that ultimately push to drive the plot forwards, both within the fictional story and the life of the playwright. 


As with most Wes Anderson films, the director’s vision and message he set out to convey with the piece is not going to be spoonfed to the viewer, yet that is often the beauty of his films as they can be analyzed to the viewer’s content. “Asteroid City,” could be thoroughly enjoyed as a comedic venture into a fictional town where aliens interrupt a gathering of incredibly smart children, their confused parents, and an elementary class trip while looking no further into the intentions of Anderson. On a slightly deeper level, the viewer could also look at the film as a reflection of grief and the pointlessness of specific moments in time that could be, even should be, life changing but are instead just events to be forgotten or discussed years down the line without much passion. 


The creativity in the writing that Anderson put together for this screenplay is very subtle. The intermissions of the “play,” provide insight into the underwhelming ambitions of the lonely playwright and by the end of the film it seems entirely possible that the play we’ve been watching, despite its high budget, dream-like appearance, may be a complete disaster despite the actor’s convincing performances. This is a fascinating and difficult concept to pull off, though not unheard of as it was seen in the Michael Keaton starring film, “Birdman,” in 2014. 


Despite this balancing act of a concept, reflecting on one medium of performance art through the lens of a completely different one, “Asteroid City,” is likely one of Anderson’s most digestible and witty films yet. This was a pleasant surprise coming from 2021’s “The French Dispatch.” A film with which I am still not sure if I understand even slightly, despite watching it quite a few times. There is plenty of humor and fascinating dialogue in the script of this film that makes its runtime fly by as magic unfolds in the town of Asteroid City. 


With a Wes Anderson film I’d be remiss if I did not discuss the cinematography of this piece of art. Anderson truly outdid himself with this movie, creating an hour and 45 minutes of shots that could all be professional photographs. The balance of the shots, the bursting, radiant colors, and the incredible set design for the tiny town of Asteroid City truly makes this a comforting film to watch. The camera work is excellent as well with Anderson making excellent use of wide shots, swooning camera pans, and comedic timing through the camera work itself. 


“Asteroid City,” has a star studded cast, with highlights coming from Scarlet Johanson, Jason Schwartzmann, and Steve Carrell. The acting performances in this film are truly invigorating and it’s incredibly satisfying to see these veteran performers immersed in a dream-like Anderson created world and provided with a script that allows them to show their flexibility as actors. 


To highlight some plot elements that stood out to me, the film / play’s main character is Augie Steinbeck, a war photographer who’s car breaks down in Asteroid City in a time where he is reeling from the death of his wife and now tasked with figuring out what to do with his young triplet daughters. As events unfold in Asteroid City, Anderson makes it easy for viewers to forget about Augie’s ever-present grief until the final act of the film where many stark revelations on grief, artistic plight, and the futility of life are unloaded on the viewers in rapid succession. Augie is left without answers, peace, or closure, but he discovers that perhaps he must just continue to trailblaze forward, despite his life and attitude towards existence being forever altered. It is a very existentialist and broad theme, one that Anderson explores through various outlets such as the sisyphean struggle of a writer, contemplations of extraterrestrial life, and the meaninglessness of suffering silently in grief and despair. 


Wes Anderson’s newest film, “Asteroid City,” is playing in theaters now and is certainly worth a trip to watch on the big screen this summer.

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