From the first couple of scenes it’s obvious Asteroid City is a Wes Anderson film as the quirkiness the writer/ director is famous for quickly shines through.
Anderson frames his latest offering as a made for TV 1950s broadcast of a fictional play called Asteroid City. The movie begins in black and white with television host (Bryan Cranston) introducing us to behind-the-scenes moments. We learn more about the actions and thoughts of the play’s writer Conrad Earp (Edward Norton), the director Schubert Green (Adrien Brody) and some of the actors who are to feature in the production.
When the movie takes us to the performance of the play it moves to colour. It then switches between black and white behind the scenes explorations and the play’s presentation.
Earp’s play tells of a group of visitors to Asteroid City, a tiny desert town with a population of 87, best known for its meteorite crater. The town is hosting the Junior Stargazer award where five of the brightest young scientific minds have gathered with their parents.
War photographer Augie Steenback (Jason Schwartzman) is there with his son Woodrow (Jake Ryan), who is due to receive an award, and his three young daughters. Augie’s wife has recently died but Augie has yet to tell his children about their mother’s passing. His father-in-law, Stanley Zak (Tom Hanks), who dislikes Augie, is due to meet the family in Asteroid City and is pressuring Augie to tell his kids the truth.
Augie strikes up a friendship with Marilyn Monroe-ish glamorous actress Midge Campbell (Scarlett Johansson), whose daughter Dinah (Grace Edwards) is another of the Junior Stargazer award winners.
Other participants present in the convention include army general Grif Gibson (Jeffrey Wright) and astronomer Dr. Hickenlooper (Tilda Swinton). There’s also young schoolteacher June (Maya Hawke) who is travelling with a busload of confident kids on a field trip. Locals include the hotel manager (Steve Carrell) who sells everything, including useless plots of lands, from a vending machine.
While everything is generally progressing as expected the arrival of a UFO, piloted by a very cute alien who steals the town’s famous meteorite, changes everything.
The United States President orders the town be locked down and places everyone present into quarantine. This not only affects the stargazers and their families but other visitors to the town including a singing cowboy and his band.
The many visual gags which feature in Asteroid City are among several giveaways this is an Anderson film. Its stylised and art-directed feel is another.Then there’s the star-studded cast, many of whom only have small or cameo parts including Margot Robbie Liev Schreiber, Hope Davis, Maya Hawke, Rupert Friend, Matt Dillon, Jeff Goldblum, Fisher Stevens, Bob Balaban, and Rita Wilson. The deadpan delivery of all the actors is another Anderson trait.
Asteroid City isn’t going to appeal to all audiences, especially those who don’t enjoy Anderson’s style of film making. It can also be a little confusing as it switches from behind the scenes to the play’s presentation, although the use of colour and black and white does help. However, for those who either enjoy Anderson’s style and/or a quirky, clever and often subtly humorous movie, then Asteroid City is likely to amuse and entertain.
Asteroid City opens in cinemas around Australia on Thursday August 10.
*Photo credit: Courtesy of Pop. 87 Productions/Focus Features
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