Asteroid City (2023)

Movie Info

Movie Info

Wes Anderson
Run Time
1 hour and 44 minutes

VP Content Ratings

Sex & Nudity
Star Rating
★★★3.5 out of 5

Relevant Quotes

Like a moth in clothing or a worm in wood,
    sorrow gnaws at the human heart.

Proverbs 25:20b
Augie calls his father to inform him that their car has broken down, while his oldest son waits outside. (c) Focus Features

I have enjoyed most of Wes Anderson’s droll comedies, especially Moonrise Kingdom and Isle of Dogs. This time his satirical tale set in the desert town of Asteroid City, Population 87, left me a bit cold and nonplussed. Its hero is a husband grieving over the recent loss of his wife and his inability to tell his children who accompany them to the tiny desert town where a government-sponsored science event for youth is being held.

There is at the beginning a strange sequence in black and white–a play, directed by Schubert Green (Adrien Brody), within a TV program, within writer Conrad Earp (Edward Norton) creating the story, narrated by Bryan Cranston , that adds to the artificiality of the proceedings. We are told that we are about to watch an “apocryphal fabrication.” That it is, the film divided into acts and scenes announced by intertitle cards, with even an “Optional Intermission” included.

Augie Steenbeck (Jason Schwartzman) is a combat photographer grieving so much over the death of his wife three weeks earlier that he has not been able to tell his four young children of her death. He says to his father-in-law (Tom Hanks) Stanley Zak, “The time is never right.” He is traveling to the town of Asteroid City because his teenage son Woodrow (Jake Ryan) is one of four Space Cadets invited to the 1955 Junior Stargazer Convention to enter his project into the competition. Sponsored by the US government, the convention is presided over by the five-star general Grif Gribson (Jeffrey Wright) and renowned astronomer Dr. Hickenlooper (Tilda Swinton).

The tiny Nevada village is a one gas pump town with a highway ramp that ends in thin air and a train system that carries fruits and vegetables and nuclear warheads. Also, on the highway passing through, once a day a police car chases a car at high speed. It’s tourist attracting is a large meteor crater formed hundreds of thousands of years ago by the meteorite now on display, and which gave the village its name. Visitors are housed in ten tiny cabins of the tourist court.  Ever so often we see on the horizon a mushroom cloud from the atom bomb testing grounds. (Actually, this looks more like a giant mushroom than a cloud!)

Also visiting the city is movie star Midge Campbell (Scarlett Johansson) with her daughter Dinah (Grace Edwards), who feels stuck in her career. Her cabin faces Augie’s, so the two fall into conversations as they look out their windows at each other. The two feel drawn to each other, as do their offspring Woody and Dinah.

There is also a host of other stars on hand in various parts—Bob Balaban, Steve Carell, Hope Davis, Willem Dafoe, Rupert Friend, Matt Dillon, Margot Robbie, Liev Schreiber—even Jeff Goldblum, unrecognizable because he is encased in a rubber suit with huge google-eyes, who descends from a UFO to snatch the asteroid particle, but returning it later. It seems that Wes Anderson has inherited Woody Allen’s ability to draw stars willing to take on walk-on parts just to become associated with this creative director.

Filmed with a bright color pallet very appropriate for a desert-set film, I am not sure what all the proceedings add up to. Because of my regard for many of his other films, I hope to watch this one again on a small scren with subtitles turned on. Somewhere in some of the lines that I missed there must be clues that I missed, because other critics have praised the film so highly.

This review will be in the July issue of VP along with a set of questions for reflection and/or discussion. If you have found reviews on this site helpful, please consider purchasing a subscription or individual issue in The Store.


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