Updated: Aug 24
Wesley Anderson. The famous American filmmaker is back with his 10th? 11th? film and there is a lot of anticipation. In some regards, this movie is classic Wes with the large, famous cast and beautifully composed and meticulously arranged shots being major parts of this film. However, this movie also shows Wes experimenting with other elements that are new to his filmography. If you don’t feel like reading, the movie is good you should watch it.
But if you do feel like reading, let’s investigate what’s good about the film. I really loved the setting. The town this movie takes place in has a great feel to it and the desert setting around the town is charming and nice to look at. Also, this is one of his funniest movies. The folks in the screening I saw this at were CACKLING (sometimes they just laughed) at many points in the film. Really enjoyable comedy throughout. Also, the way lines were delivered was interesting for Wes as the characters talked over each other much more than any other Wes film I’ve seen. I wondered if he had been watching His Girl Friday recently. Beyond the comedy and setting, I thought the acting was uniformly excellent. Jason Schwartzman gives maybe his best performance ever (probably second best to the Rushmore performance but its still excellent) and Scarlett Johansson matches Schwartzman’s performance. Also, Tom Hanks is in this and its super fun to see him in a Wes Anderson movie.
This is the paragraph where I compare this movie to his previous movies. This is a much more human film than usual for Wes. Which doesn’t mean he’s going for a cinematic naturalism, BUT his characters seem like people. Children actually act like children and aren’t given adult lines and generally it seems like his characters are feeling human emotions. I say that like it is an improvement over his previous works. I don’t exactly think that way. Wes’ habit of having his characters be very monotonous in delivering lines and very precise in their movements is very interesting to make as an artistic choice and makes his films unique and somewhat surreal. However, this is sometimes criticized by audiences who fail to empathize/maintain an interest with the non-expressive characters. That should be less of an issue in this movie. This film also demonstrates a step back from The French Dispatch’s extremely symmetrical framing and borderline obsessive attention to detail in putting together shots. Once again, Wes’ films being perfectly shot is something people will gripe about, (for some reason still unknown to me) but this film should please the people who dislike that. However, there are some ways this film continues The French Dispatch’s stylistic conventions such as the film switching from color to black and white (and green) and repeated aspect ratio changes. These are very fun. I like them.
There are certainly some things to criticize. There are so many characters in this that it would be borderline impossible to explore them all. I don’t have a major issue with this but sometimes there are characters that seem to just be in the story to do one joke and I feel like more could be done with them. Another thing that could bother people is the film’s writing. Anderson’s movies are frequently opaque and emotionally odd but this may take the cake when it comes to difficulty in trying to understand exactly what the film is getting at. There are certainly multiple readings to make of the film but none are going to be definitive so if you get frustrated by films that may seem to be pointless maybe don’t check this one out. This seems to be the primary complaint of audiences who see this film. And even the sophisticated viewers of the Loft screening seemed confused and maybe slightly annoyed at the way the film ended.
Honestly though, this was great. Its purposeful lack of making a massive point allows it to feel at times like a Wes Anderson slice-of-life movie and it is often a joy. Also, its structured in a very, very interesting way that wasn’t spoiled in the trailers so I won’t talk about it in this review. I distinctly remember two sequences which gave me goosebumps. Its exciting to watch the work of an extremely talented filmmaker who is mostly given free rein to work. The box office returns seem to indicate that audiences agree with this claim as Asteroid City has gotten the largest return per theater of any film opening since La La Land. (Take this with a grain of salt though, it had only opened in 6 theaters when those returns were documented and those theaters were only in the L.A. and New York area.) Hopefully Hollywood notices and lets filmmakers have a larger hand in making the finished product of their films. Also, Jeff Goldblum plays the Alien. What tremendous casting.