Asteroid City12¦ Blu-ray, DVD
For some time now, US director Wes Anderson has been a darling of independent cinema. His films are low budget, and for the most part, consistently make a profit, with the only anomaly being 2014’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, that by Anderson’s standards made an impressive $173 million at the box office, on a just as impressive budget of only $35 million.
His films then are far from global blockbusters, but in an era of superheroes and villains, his films are a blissful haven of creativity and ingenuity.
Here he presents a famous playwright’s latest effort, that takes place in the fictional town of Asteroid City.
It’s 1955 and just arriving in the desert town of Asteroid City – pop. 87 – is Augie Steenbeck (Jason Schwartzman), his son Woodrow (Jake Ryan), and his three young daughters. They are there to participate in a science convention, with an audience of invited young stargazers and space cadets.
It should be a time of celebration and excitement, but Augie has some distressing news that he has to impart. Thankfully something truly incredible takes place that manages to trump any form of bad news, that might not just make an impact on their lives, but civilisation itself.
This is a follow up to Anderson’s 2021 The French Dispatch, which although was visually stunning, as is all of the director’s work, it was a tad esoteric for many. Asteroid City is a return to a more playful and lighter in tone Anderson, making it an utter joy from beginning to end.
That’s not to say that it’s straightforward; it’s a layered, emotionally textured piece, with Anderson once again using all manner of cinematic techniques – such as shooting in both colour and black & white, as well as a myriad of screen ratios. There’s also a notion of a play within a play to get your head around, but in truth the actual play is more like a film as we know it.
As is the director’s way, he has a regular acting troupe he relies upon, which includes the likes of Schwartzman, Willem Defoe, Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody and Edward Norton, who all appear here, as well as some welcome new faces in the shape of Margot Robbie, Tom Hanks, Steve Carell, Matt Dillon and Scarlett Johansson (although she did provide her voice for a character in his 2018 animated Isle of Dogs).
It’s also a film that relies heavily on a number of its large youthful cast, who perform as if they’ve been working for Anderson for their entire lives.
And of course the director is once again providing scenes awash with colour and the constant framing of both his characters and his story, which makes Asteroid City yet another example of Anderson’s kaleidoscope of techniques that just look simply stunning on screen.
It’s a film that touches a number of themes, such as fatherhood, grief, relationships and of course alien life forms, giving it that emotional edge perhaps missing from The French Dispatch.
And just like his entire body of work, it is creatively quirky, putting you in the familiar position of never fully knowing what might be coming next. Nothing other than what you would expect from a genuine modern day auteur, who stamps his particular style on everything he produces.
With its stunning visual palette, outstanding troupe of players, and absorbing story-within-a-story, Anderson has once again delivered something truly unique and fantastical, that is, dare we say it, out of this world.