Andrea’s Angle | “Asteroid City” – Style, Not Enough Substance

Let me preface my discussion of this film by saying that I typically love Wes Anderson and his unique style. When I saw the trailer, I was excited because it looked unique and captivating. After I saw the film, I found there was much of the style that I loved combined with meta-commentary on acting, the film world, and performing. It is a unique story as well, with brilliant acting by the performers, but the use of allusion and many of the references I found went over my head, and the story fell flat at points for me.

Asteroid City is a romantic comedy-drama directed by Wes Anderson with a screenplay written by Anderson and Roman Coppola. In the film, a television host (Bryan Cranston) introduces the audience to a televised production of Asteroid City, a play by famed playwright Conrad Earp (Edward Norton) about a youth astronomy convention in a desert town of the same name. The film then shifts to color as the story begins with war photographer Augie Steebeck (Jason Schwartzman) arriving at the junior Stargazer convention with his son Woodrow (Jake Ryan) and his daughters, and his car has broken down. He phones his cantankerous father-in-law Stanley (Tom Hanks) to come help with the car. They quickly meet world-famous actress Midge Campbell (Scarlett Johansson) and her daughter Dinah (Grace Edwards). Augie and Midge, Woodrow, and Dinah slowly fall in love as unexpected events occur at the convention. Interspersed with the ‘film’ are moments from the play itself. Steve Carell plays the hotel manager, and the rest of the cast is filled out by an all-star cast.

Bryan Cranston stars as “Host” in writer/director Wes Anderson’s ASTEROID CITY, a Focus Features release. Credit: Courtesy of Pop. 87 Productions/Focus Features

In this film, I do like the creativity of the setting and the set up as a play, in three acts, as the film portion is in a bright color like films from the fifties. Wes Anderson uses the format of the film to add allusions to Western films, old Science Fiction films, as well as the classics from the fifties. The little bursts of meta ideas created an interesting feeling to the film, and I do like the idea of a film within a play within a movie. It is reminiscent of other plays that I’ve read, and the allusions that I grasp made me intrigued by the movie.

(L to R) Steve Carell as “Motel Manager”, Aristou Meehan as “Clifford” and Liev Schreiber as “J.J. Kellogg” in writer/director Wes Anderson’s ASTEROID CITY, a Focus Features release. Credit: Courtesy of Pop. 87 Productions/Focus Features

I also love the relationships, as Wes Anderson does a fantastic job of developing intense emotional connections between Augie and Midge as well as Woodrow and Dinah. Their connections are among some of the best scenes in the film. I also like some of the humor injected into the movie. Tom Hanks is especially funny with the young ladies playing his granddaughters. The comedic elements lighten some of the more confusing moments and make the film more engaging.

(L to R) Jake Ryan as “Woodrow”, Jason Schwartzman as “Augie Steenbeck” and Tom Hanks as “Stanley Zak” in writer/director Wes Anderson’s ASTEROID CITY, a Focus Features release. Credit: Courtesy of Pop. 87 Productions/Focus Features

As I mentioned, this is an all-star cast, and it shows most profoundly in the performances. Scarlett Johansson and Jason Schwartzman are incredible in their interactions with each other and the rest of the cast. Their chemistry is believable even if the contrivance of the play within the filmed production. While there is some artifice to their connection, the performances still are engaging and warm. Tom Hanks is richly funny, and even small roles, like Steve Carell or Rupert Friend as a singing cowboy, are fantastic. There are definitely some surprising casting choices and surprises in the performances.

(L to R) Grace Edwards as “Dinah”, Scarlett Johansson as “Midge Campbell” and Damien Bonnaro as “Bodyguard/Driver” in writer/director Wes Anderson’s ASTEROID CITY, a Focus Features release. Credit: Courtesy of Pop. 87 Productions/Focus Features

What unbalances the film for me is that this is very much a filmmaker’s film. In order to truly enjoy the film, you must understand all the allusions and references. I don’t know about everyone else, but as much as I love films, I do not keep all those references in my mind. Most regular audiences are likely not to appreciate the structure or the oddness of the style. The film also drags with the massive amount of meta-commentary in the movie. If you love Wes Anderson, though, you may still like this movie, especially with the satirical humor and the relationships.

Writer/director Wes Anderson on the set of ASTEROID CITY, a Focus Features release. Credit: Courtesy of Roger Do Minh/Pop. 87 Productions/Focus Features

If you do like Wes Anderson and you like meta films that highlight the film industry and allusions to the golden age of film, you may really appreciate and love this film. I struggled to understand all the allusions and references myself. But I did appreciate the humor, the brilliant performances, and the relationships. Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, and Edward Norton are especially excellent in the film. But I enjoyed the entire cast. And while I struggled with the substance of the film and the allusions, I did appreciate the style. Ultimately for me, there’s lots of style, but not enough substance.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 narrations

Official Website: Asteroid City | Official Website | June 16 2023
Twitter: @AsteroidCity
Facebook: @AsteroidCityFilm
Instagram: Asteroid City (@asteroidcity) • Instagram photos and videos


Asteroid City

Genre: Comedy/Drama/Romance

Asteroid City is a dot-on-the-map desert town in the American Southwest. The year is 1955. The town’s most famous attraction is a gigantic meteor crater and celestial observatory nearby. This weekend, the military and astronomers are welcoming five science award-winning children to display their inventions. Not far away, over the hills, mushroom clouds from atomic tests are seen.
ASTEROID CITY is currently playing in select theaters and opens wide in theaters on June 23, 2023.

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