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Asteroid City review: Wes Anderson's whimsical tale is more style than plot

The director's newest film is released on 23 June

(L to R) Jake Ryan, Jason Schwartzman and Tom Hanks in writer/director Wes Anderson's Asteroid City. (Focus Features/Universal Pictures)
Jake Ryan, Jason Schwartzman and Tom Hanks in writer/director Wes Anderson's Asteroid City. (Focus Features/Universal Pictures)
  • 🎞️ When is Asteroid City in cinemas: 23 June, 2023

  • ⭐️ Our rating: 4/5

  • 🎭 Who's in it? Jason Schwartzman, Tom Hanks, Scarlett Johansson, Adrien Brody, Maya Hawke, Tilda Swinton, Jeffrey Wright.

  • 👍 What we liked: Wes Anderson once again brings us his unique cinematic vision, the cast are wonderful particularly Jeffrey Wright and Tilda Swinton.

  • 👎 What we didn't: The nonsensical plot loses its charm the longer the film goes on as it becomes more obvious that there isn't a point to any of it.

  • 📖 What's it about?: Set in 1950s America in Asteroid City, people gather for a junior stargazer convention but are soon involved in a shocking incident.

Wes Anderson's filmmaking style is so unique that it has become its own social media meme, with people trying their best to recreate his vision, with varying success.

Of course, no one can do Wes Anderson better than the director himself and Asteroid City proves that with its stunning set pieces, delightful costumes and perfectly positioned framing.

In Asteroid City, the audience are transported to 1950s America, to the desert town for which the film was given its name where war photographer Augie Steenbeck's (Jason Schwartzman) car has broken down.

Read more: Wes Anderson is not a fan of the viral TikTok trend inspired by his films (Rolling Stone, 2-min read).

Luckily he and his kids were travelling there for the annual junior stargazer convention, where Augie's son Woodrow (Jake Ryan) is competing with other child prodigies to win a grant by General Grif Gibson (Jeffrey Wright).

Scarlett Johansson in writer/director Wes Anderson's Asteroid City. (Focus Features/Universal Pictures)
Scarlett Johansson in writer/director Wes Anderson's Asteroid City. (Focus Features/Universal Pictures)

The small town is full of visitors for the convention and its corresponding star-gazing event, from actor Midge Campbell (Scarlett Johansson), to teacher June Douglas (Maya Hawke) and her class, and when a shocking event takes place the group are forced to quarantine in town.

Oh, and everything just mentioned is part of a play written by the misanthropic playwright Conrad Earp (Edward Norton), told to us by TV host Bryan Cranston.

Read more: Meet the star-studded cast of Wes Anderson's new film Asteroid City

If you're looking for a point to Asteroid City, it seems that there simply isn't one. This is a stylistic fable that has very little going in its plot, and what is there sadly doesn't make much sense. That the film is a play within a play is an explanation of sorts, because the film does sometimes feel like an improv theatre production on the big screen.

Asteroid City values style over substance, and while it is stunning that does hamper the experience somewhat. Unlike the exhilarating stories of films like The Grand Budapest Hotel and Fantastic Mr. Fox, Asteroid City moves at a slow pace and by the time it does reach its conclusion viewers will find it hard to really understand what the point of it all was.

That's not to say the film isn't enjoyable, it has a delightful story and is beautiful to look at, while the star-studded cast do a wonderful job of delivering the director's quirky script with all the seriousness expected in an Anderson production.

Bryan Cranston stars as
Bryan Cranston stars as the Host in Wes Anderson's Asteroid City (Focus Features).

Asteroid City also has some genuinely funny moments, namely with Bryan Cranston's host and the event that keeps the cast in the film's titular town, but it just isn't enough to make it stand out from the director's vast filmography.

Even Wes Anderson super-fans might find Asteroid City hard to get into, because while it is delightful it is almost too ostentatious. Some may not agree of course, but that is the polarising nature of this film.

Given the high calibre of Anderson's previous works, though, this doesn't mean the film is bad. Asteroid City is a good movie, just not the director's best.

Asteroid City will be released in cinemas and IMAX on Friday, 23 June.

Watch the trailer for Asteroid City.