#SheReviews Film: Asteroid City

August 4, 2023

What is reality? What is real and what is fake? Wes Anderson blurs the lines in his new film Asteroid City. Set in the fictional desert meteorite town of Asteroid City this comedy-drama tells the story of the play Asteroid City, within a documentary about the play, all within a movie. It is funny and quirky while giving a nod to cartoons, those 50’s cowboy and alien movies, sweet romances, stage plays and movies past. With a stellar cast from Tom Hanks to Scarlet Johansson, Margot Robbie, Adrien Brody to Bryan Cranston and so many more, you will be starstruck in more ways than one as you watch this new film.

The crux of the story is a budding and gentle romance between widower and war photojournalist, Augie (Jason Schwartzman) and actress, Midge ( Scarlet Johansson) who meet while accompanying their teens to Asteroid City for the Junior Stargazers/ Space Cadet convention. Augie only tells his children when they reach space camp that their mother has died. He is still processing events himself. Their grandfather Stanley ( Tom Hanks), who appears to have no love for Augie, comes to pick up Augie’s younger girls. Stanley soon finds himself quarantined with the family in Asteroid City after the alien sighting. 

Both parents have bright teenagers, Woodrow and Dinah, who both have a passion for science. The teens also develop an attraction. Augie also has three precocious young daughters who almost steal the show in their Macbeth like turn. As the gifted teenagers are getting to know one another and other attendees under the tutelage of local scientist Dr Hickenlooper (played by an almost unrecognisable Tilda Swinton), world changing events spectacularly derail the convention. 

There is also a school group of ten, led by loveable teacher, June ( Maya Hawke), who throughout tries to reassure her students that all is well. Some of the funniest scenes are of June keeping calm and carrying on whilst the students are focused on the alien landing. A romance blossoms between June and singing cowboy, Montana ( Rupert Friend). 

Just when you think you have a handle on the story the narrator appears with tones of a bad high school science film and reminds us that it is not real life we are watching but a televised production of a play. The black and white scenes in the movie are part of a documentary about the play, its writers, directors and the actors who play the roles.

The juxtaposition is that the colourfully stylised and cartoonish play seems more real than the flat supposed real life scenes. You truly become invested in the romance and are caught up in the space story, complete with an alien landing, which gives shades of Roswell. Can you guess who plays the alien? The cartoon like atmosphere is further enhanced by the appearance of a roadrunner, reminding us of a favourite childhood classic. 

The young actors were wonderful and had me enthralled by their story, as a card carrying nerd I loved the space camp theme and all the subtle hints towards plays of yore and former Anderson movies ( The Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel) kept me on my toes. You will also by mesmerised by the amount of Hollywood stars in this ensemble cast. See if you can pick Anderson’s go – to actors he’s worked with in other films. It seems like everyone wants to work with Wes Anderson and keep working with him again and again. 

With some fabulous performances from the cast, this film explores themes of grief, loss, love and controlling our emotions and behaviour in the face of uncertainty. It is also fun with plenty of laughs heard in our preview screening. Those who love Wes Anderson films and the American Eccentric Cinema genre will call this film a masterpiece. It is very stylised and strange in parts and won’t appeal to everyone, especially those who love the structure of a linear story. It remains to be seen if Wes Anderson has out – Andersoned himself or is he the greatest film genius the world has seen? Time will tell. You can see for yourself when this film reaches Australian cinemas on August 10.

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