In partnership with Universal Pictures UK
Arriving two years after Wes Anderson’s last project, the BAFTA-nominated The French Dispatch, the king of quirk’s latest film – his eleventh – sees him introducing us to the delirious desert destination of Asteroid City and is well worth checking out.
The plot is Wes Anderson’s unique take on a sci-fi comedy
Set in the fictional desert town of Asteroid City – so called because 3000 years ago it was the site of a meteorite landing – the film is Anderson’s idiosyncratic take on sci-fi, where a Junior Stargazer/Space Cadet convention for high school prodigies and their science projects is taking place. And in a quintessentially Anderson meta framing device, the events taking place in Asteroid City are all part of a teleplay by a foppish playwright (Edward Norton), with a Twilight Zone-style host (Bryan Cranston) keeping us updated on the action. Co-written by Roman Coppola, this story about love and loss unfolds charmingly like Close Encounters Of The Deadpan Kind.
The huge cast is out of this world
Asteroid City is one of those top-drawer films where the cast is so starry, you can imagine them playing Top Trumps with their Oscars at lunch. The flick features a sprawling ensemble of A-listers, who are all given time to shine. Regular Anderson players include Jason Schwartzman (as war photographer, Augie Steenbeck, grappling with the death of his wife and breaking the news to his children) and Tilda Swinton (as scientist Dr. Hickenlooper), but the ranks of the Andersonverse are swelled by the likes of Scarlett Johansson (as an actor with a penchant for playing tragic figures) and Tom Hanks (on top form as a curmudgeonly grandfather). The rogues’ gallery also boasts – deep breath! – Edward Norton, Margot Robbie, Adrien Brody, Liev Schreiber, Maya Hawke, Rupert Friend, Steve Carell, Matt Dillon, Willem Dafoe, Hope Davis, and Hong Chau. That’s before we even mention a cameo from Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker as a cowboy. Basically, everyone in Hollywood is in it apart from the Cocaine Bear.
Wes Anderson directs Jason Schwartzman and Tom Hanks on set. CREDIT: Universal
It’s Wes’ funniest film yet
Thanks to a story brimming with eccentric characters, the comedy in Asteroid City is sharp as a scalpel that might be used to dissect an extra-terrestrial in Area 51. It’s a joy watching Tom Hanks adapting to Anderson’s stylised dialogue, while surreal moments abound such as the futuristic school science project inventions that include a death ray. Plus the way the protagonists react to the alien visiting the earth is both hilarious and poignant. It’s laugh-out-laugh funny while tapping into themes of nostalgia and the deeper meaning of life.
No other filmmaker could pull it off
Few filmmakers’ hallmarks (symmetry, pop-pastel colours, offbeat humour) are so distinctive that they’ve ignited multiple social media trends, but then, Wes Anderson isn’t like other filmmakers. WesTok has taken over social media, with users re-enacting their daily routines in his aesthetic. Then there’s the “accidental Wes Anderson” shots that constantly pepper Instagram – and the AI Anderson-styled spoofs of blockbusters like Harry Potter currently dominating feeds.
Asteroid City – where everything happens with microscopic attention to detail, and the actors are directed so precisely that it feels akin to a live-action animation – proves that despite the myriad tributes Anderson has spawned, nobody does it better than the original; like the difference between a Versace top and a £3 market-stall counterfeit.
It’s like a live-action comic book
The kitsch-Americana of Asteroid City’s (population 87) sun-blushed 1950s desert town, with its vintage diner and gas station, huge meteorite crater that acts as its tourist attraction, and mushroom clouds from detonated atomic bomb tests in the background, may represent Anderson’s most meticulously-created world yet. It melds retrofuturism with dust-kicking Route 66 iconography, and is saturated with visual gags galore that reward multiple big-screen views of the film. Asteroid City’s Russian Doll film-within-a-film device also sees it fully embracing its own artificiality, switching between the usual hyper-real palette and black-and-white, to exhilarating effect.
Jason Schwartzman and Tom Hanks in ‘Asteroid City’. CREDIT: Universal
The hype is justified
When Asteroid City debuted at Cannes Film Festival, it was garlanded with rave reviews. Rating it four out of five stars, NME lavished praise on the “unmatched A-list cast” and “lush-looking film”, enthusing: “Like all of Anderson’s work, it’s very affectionate… Best of all, Jason Schwartzman – now on his seventh Anderson movie – gets a juicy role for his favourite director. Seeing the two of them together again feels like perfect harmony.” Throw in the stunning soundtrack that contains era-appropriate needle-drops (this time featuring the likes of The Kinks, Buddy Holly and Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers) and this really is an unmissable addition to the Anderson universe.
‘Asteroid City’ is in UK cinemas from June 23