Wes Anderson’s latest offering, “Asteroid City,” is an ambitious, multilayered exploration of American life wrapped in a retro sci-fi comedy-drama. This visually stunning spectacle embraces Anderson’s distinct cinematic style, representing a synthesis of his deeply held emotions and long-standing interest in dysfunctional families, grief, and love.
The film introduces audiences to an innovative structure, centered around a play depicting ‘actual events.’ Bryan Cranston serves as the host of a TV show featuring the making of this new play from renowned playwright, Conrad Earp (Edward Norton). Anderson invites the audience to follow the actors both onstage and off, illustrating the intricacies of their characters and their personal motivations. The pastel daydream setting, vibrant visuals, and clever staging capture the essence of the mid-century modern atomic age.
Asteroid City’s primary story revolves around the character of Augie Steenbeck, played by Jason Schwartzman. Augie, a bereaved widower and war photographer, grapples with the harsh reality of his wife’s death, which he concealed from his four children for weeks. Schwartzman’s nuanced portrayal of Augie embodies the complexity of grief, a theme further underscored by the film’s mantra, “You can’t wake up if you don’t fall asleep.” His performance, along with Scarlett Johansson’s triple role as an actress within and outside the play, adds depth to the narrative.
Anderson’s creative genius takes a lighthearted turn with the introduction of a super cute alien played by Jeff Goldblum, adding to the film’s humor and charm. Augie’s triplet daughters, brought to life by Ella, Gracie, and Willan Faris, offer comic relief while also conveying the impact of their mother’s death.
Asteroid City brilliantly deconstructs myths of Americana, reflected in its cast of complicated characters. Steve Carell, for instance, stars as a roadside motel manager, offering an amusing yet poignant commentary on the pursuit of the American dream. The characters’ lives unfold in the remote desert town of Asteroid City, a farce of Americana rendered cartoonish by the likes of a roadrunner puppet.
Despite its artifice, Asteroid City is a profoundly personal work, inviting viewers to experience the intimate bubbles of emotion that seep through its characters’ polished facades. Anderson’s use of open-ended elements insinuates that life continues beyond the frame, allowing characters to live on in the audience’s imagination.
In conclusion, “Asteroid City” is a cinematic masterpiece from Wes Anderson, harmonizing aesthetic appeal with emotional depth. It’s a journey that encourages audiences to fall asleep to the artifice and awaken to the enriching world of cinema. Through its unique exploration of grief, performance, and Americana, the film invites viewers to surrender to the narrative and experience the film through their lens.
IMAGE CREDIT: Focus Films.