Stargazers and Space Cadets

Asteroid City

Director: Wes Anderson

Cast: Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe, Adrien Brody, Jeffrey Wright, Bryan Cranston, Liev Schreiber, Hope Davis, Steve Park, Hong Chau, Rupert Friend, Maya Hawke, Steve Carell, Matt Dillon, Margot Robbie, Tony Revolori, Jake Ryan, Jeff Goldblum, Grace Edwards, Sophia Lillis, Bob Balaban

Running Time: 1 hour and 44 minutes

Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Celestial flirtations abound in director Wes Anderson’s latest fluorescent theatrical film, Asteroid City featuring a blossoming cast headlined by two excellent performances by Jason Schwartzman and Oscar nominee Scarlett Johansson (Jojo Rabbit, Marriage Story) as theatre actors Augie Steenbeck and the glamorous Midge Campbell who find themselves acting in the eccentric playwright Conrad Earp wonderfully played with deadpan flamboyance by Oscar nominee Edward Norton (Primal Fear, American History X, Birdman)’s new play Asteroid City set in a one horse town in Arizona in 1955 complete without a candy coloured diner and a nuclear testing site.

Asteroid City has a population of 69.

Visually and aesthetically, Asteroid City is beautiful to watch as a film, like a trippy popup book with fabulous colours and eccentric characters from singing cowboys and random socialites, from military personnel to perilous children who comprise the space cadets of the town.

At a random event celebrating the arrival of an asteroid in a desert, the entire town is gathered and listening to an articulate speech by General Grif Gibson played by Jeffrey Wright (No Time To Die) when out of nowhere a cheeky alien arrives in a garish green UFO and unexpectedly steals the asteroid while the town looks on in horror and curiosity.

Luckily Augie who is a reluctant father of four children, a son named Woodrow wonderfully played by Jake Ryan and triplet daughters known collectively by their grandfather as The Witches, managed to photograph the alien. Then the military step in and quarantine the town, a suitable jibe by screenwriter Wes Anderson at the weird lockdown restrictions imposed by Governments across the world during the Covid19 pandemic in 2020.

Despite the ensemble cast, it is really Jason Schwartzman and Scarlett Johansson’s film as they both shine in a complex self-reflexive narrative which takes inspiration from American playwright Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town. Jason Schwartzman who played King Louis XVI opposite Kirsten Dunst in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette and is soon to star in his uncle Francis Ford Coppola’s new film Megalopolis, really shines as a talented stage actor and part time homosexual Augie Steenbeck in a role which is equally quirky and subversive.

Asteroid City is a highly theatrical comically absurd film serving as a dazzling critique on the bizarre nature of events in 2020 and cleverly presents the concept of The West as a construct to be interchanged and taken down again, much like a cardboard city. Notable turns in the film go to Tom Hanks as Grandfather Stanley Zak, Oscar winner Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton) as Dr Hickenlooper and Oscar nominee Bryan Cranston (Trumbo) as The Host.

Take yourself on a journey and see the visually splendid Asteroid City, which is not perfect as a film, but it is enchanting in a celestial way and will find a cult following everywhere much like the Space Cadets that follow the Milky Way. With impressive set designs, Asteroid City should win an Oscar for Production Design in the 2024 Academy Awards.

Not as brilliant as The Grand Budapest Hotel, but Asteroid City gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10, a quirky self-reflexive play about a city that doesn’t exist and an alien that possibly does.

Wes Anderson outdoes himself with a script and a bizarre film which received a 6 minute standing ovation at the film’s glittering premiere at the 2023 Festival de Cannes.

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