Asteroid City (2023)

Focus Features
CAPSULE REVIEW (500 words or less)

Wes Anderson has always been a big hit-or-miss for me. While I found it difficult to find anything appealing about films such as Rushmore or The Royal Tenenbaums, I think The Grand Budapest Hotel, Moonrise Kingdom, Fantastic Mr. Fox and Isle of Dogs to be absolute masterpieces. As a writer/director, Anderson defines the word “auteur,” as his films are uniquely his vision, from start to finish, and they are instantly recognizable. His films are defined by their quirkiness, their charm and their beauty. So, every time a new Wes Anderson film comes out, it is an event. But it always remains to be seen how they ultimately land.

For Asteroid City, Anderson’s latest, he has chosen the setting of a small town in the middle of the American desert to spin his tale of a family’s trip to a junior stargazing event, where, naturally, a series of strange events unfold.

As in any Wes Anderson film, the production design and performances always take precedence over story and plot, and Asteroid City is no different, as Anderson and his creative team have created, yet again, a gorgeous tapestry of color and light, camera movement and costumes. Oscar-winning production designer Adam Stockhausen (who won his Oscar for designing Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel) delivers yet again with these stunning sets and cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman captures the mellow undertones that lay beneath the whimsical exterior.

There is a lot going on in this film, theme-wise, from the existential to the familial, from the vastness of outer space to the inner life of a broken-hearted widower. It sometimes feels as if Anderson is trying to tackle a little too much and wade a little too deep, but Asteroid City still manages to find its footing, if not its focus.

As always, the actors, who each finds their own particular approach to the unique experience of delivering a Wes Anderson character, are exceptional, especially Scarlett Johansson, Jeffrey Wright, Maya Hawke and Jason Schwartzman, who is the most appealing here than he’s ever been.

In the end, I would put Asteroid City somewhere in the middle of Wes Anderson’s filmography, but it’s important to point out that even a mediocre Wes Anderson film is better than ninety percent of other films. So if you like your philosophizing and deep thinking accompanied by a hefty dose of quirkiness, Asteroid City is exactly your jam.

Asteroid City is currently available to stream on Prime Video.