Attention to the smallest details, absurd situations, and unique, aesthetic stylistics – these are only some of the traits that distinguish Wes Anderson’s movies from any other director. The director’s sci-fi movie “Asteroid City” does not disappoint and has the same unique qualities that drew attention to Wes Anderson in the first place.
Wes Anderson directed movies have an authentic and recognizable style: bright colors, smooth camera movements, and symmetric compositions that look like memorable art pieces. But Wes Anderson’s movies are not easy to watch: predominant chaos, sporadic structure, and characters, who behave unnaturally, require a lot of concentration. However, that does not stop the movie from delivering a message that is familiar to everyone.
The movie is set in the 1950s, in a made-up town in America, named Asteroid City. The city obtained this name after an asteroid left a massive crater there 5000 years ago, where an observatory was built later. Despite the crater, the town is a dreary and empty place in the desert, with only 87 residents and nothing else, but a petrol station, motel, and a diner. Asteroid City is only known for the Junior Stargazer and Space Cadet convention, where young and smart teenagers gather to present their inventions. However, the convention is interrupted by unexpected events that force the town to quarantine, locking up town residents and tourists inside Asteroid City.
However, the first few minutes of the movie reveal that Asteroid City is made-up, and what we see is just a play. The movie is set up out of a few levels: the movie starts with a black and white introduction, a TV show, which presents the play about Asteroid City and its author Conrad Earp. The author gives a look behind the scenes and introduces the characters and the story behind the play. The third level, the main level where the story unveils, is the play about the Asteroid City. Each part has its own color palette: the play is colored, and other levels are monochromic. But Wes Anderson movies are usually fragmented, this movie is not an exception. Jumping between different movie spaces and the storyteller’s interruptions disturb the movie’s continuity, but that is what makes Wes Anderson’s movies different. The combination of monochromic and pastel scenes helps to differentiate different levels and keep a chaotic but well-structured story.
The time period of the movie is not coincidental. The movie captures American pop culture at the time – in the 1950s the subject of cosmos was very popular in America. The space race and new technologies aside, conspiracy theories about UFOs and aliens were booming. The director captures this timeframe of constant change and innovations. The characters in the movie seek stability and are running away from the unknown, but the Cold War is just beginning and other unplanned events change their lives. The quarantine, nuclear bomb explosions, and personal challenges – loss, fear, and uncertainty stop the characters from reaching peace – one thing they desire the most, even though it is impossible: “If you wanted to live a nice, quiet, peaceful life, you picked the wrong time to get born.”
“Asteroid City” is filled with well-known and recognized actors: Tom Hanks, Scarlett Johansson, Steve Carell, Margot Robbie, Jeffrey Wright, Maya Hawke, Jeff Goldbloom, and some other Hollywood stars. One of the central characters teenager Woodrow (Jake Ryan), came to Asteroid City along with his war photographer father Augie (Jason Schwartzman) and three little sisters to present his invention at the convention. In the city, they meet Midge Campbell (Scarlett Johansson) – a charming actress, and her teenage daughter Dina (Grace Edwards), who is also competing in the convention. From their first interaction, there is a mutual attraction between Augie and Midge. Each of the characters faces personal challenges but tackles them differently. Eye-catching characters and dialogues are memorable and character development advances the plot. Even the secondary, less visible characters – Augie’s father-in-law Stanley, General Gibson, teacher June Douglas, and others reveal interesting and unique personalities.
Even though the authentic narrative style, unnatural setting, and character behavior make the movie look unrealistic, the subtle humor, absurd situations, and character development reveal existential topics about change and self-doubt. The characters in the movie look cold and emotionless, but they face questions about the meaning of life, and their experiences are surprisingly very touching.
The movie premiered in the 2023 Cannes Movie Festival and is available in theaters since June.