Wes Anderson is the gift that keeps on giving. So far in his career, Anderson has produced 11 full-length feature films and seven short films. All of these films have received critical acclaim, whether it be small or large, and have done financially well at the box office. He is one of the best filmmakers working today.
From a viewer’s perspective, a Wes Anderson film is like escaping to a world that is both very similar and also very different from the real world. His latest work, “Asteroid City” (2023) is a prime example of this.
“Asteroid City” tells a story within a story of a playwright’s (played by Edward Norton) world-renowned fictional play about a grieving father who travels with his son and three daughters to small rural Asteroid City to compete in a junior stargazing/space cadet convention circa 1955 only for their and many others world views to be shattered by an extraterrestrial presence.
The father character, Augie Steenbeck, is played excellently by one of Anderson’s closest actor collaborators and dear friends, Jason Schwartzman. Schwartzman by far gives the best performance in the film.
What makes him so memorable is his interactions with multiple other cast members. The strongest bond that Schwartzman has is definitely with Scarlett Johansson, who plays Midge Campbell; a famous actress. From the moment these two characters meet, they are constantly building off each other for the entire runtime of the movie.
One of Anderson’s best writing devices is allowing the child actors and actresses to have the spotlight every once and a while. Augie’s son, Woodrow Steenbeck, is played by Jake Ryan and he is absolutely fantastic. He is probably third to Schwartman’s and Johansson’s performances if we’re being honest.
Most of the best scenes in “Asteroid City” are simply characters having conversations with each other. This fortunately does not ruin the pacing of the film as the quirky dialogue and editing make these scenes compelling and not dragging.
Like the rest of his films that have come before, “Asteroid City” is littered with many A-list celebrities. These include: Tom Hanks, Tilda Swinton, Jeffrey Wright, Edward Norton, Steve Carell, Adrien Brody, Liev Schreiber, Willem Dafoe, Bryan Cranston, Tony Revolori, Jeff Goldblum, Maya Hawke, Hope Davis, Stephen Park, Rupert Friend, Matt Dillon, Margot Robbie, Sophia Lillis, and many others. My goodness, what a cast!
The two faces that surprisingly weren’t in the film were Owen Wilson and Bill Murray. Perhaps Anderson wanted to change things up for a bit. All of the performers listed all do a marvelous job in the movie. One of the stand-out secondary characters is Rupert Friend as Montana.
While he does not have a lot of screentime, Friend still shines as a potentially new favorite regular actor for Anderson to use in future projects. So far Friend has only been in two of Anderson’s films that being “Asteroid City” and “The French Dispatch” which was released in 2021.
Anderson and his production team also do not fail to impress audiences with the amount of detail and hard work that is put into creating the setting of Asteroid City. Every single frame in this film has something that is unique about it. Whether it be Conrad Earp’s (Edward Norton’s character) living quarters, the flying saucer the Alien arrives in, or the diner where Augie Steenbeck and Midge Campbell meet for the first time — Wes Anderson sure knows how to make the simplest settings look way more interesting and articulate.
One aspect of the film that is admirable is Anderson’s willingness to experiment with his storytelling. As already stated before, “Asteroid City” is a story within a story with each actor playing a character in the play and a character outside the play. Schwartzman plays a stage actor named Jones Hall who then plays Augie Steenbeck in “Asteroid City.
Anderson cleverly shoots the scenes where the audience isn’t watching the play version of “Asteroid City” in black-and-white while the scenes that comprise the entirety of the play are in beautiful stylized color.
The scenes where Jones Hall interacts with various other crew members and actors on the set of “Asteroid City” put a lot of thought in the mind of each viewer watching. Hall confronts the director of the play, Schubert Green (played by Adrien Brody), and tells him he still doesn't understand the play.
Green informs Hall to keep playing the role of Augie Steenbeck the same way for the rest of the duration of the play. Anderson wrote something that left something in my brain many days after watching “Asteroid City.”
I am still uncertain as to what the underlying message Anderson is telling with “Asteroid City.” But, like all quality pieces of art, thinking over and over is basically a requirement when it comes to unpacking what an artist is truly saying with his or her product. In a way, myself and others who watched “Asteroid City” are feeling the same way that Jones Hall is feeling about his portrayal in the play.
Do we truly understand what we are reading, watching, painting, writing, photographing, etc. when it comes to art? Maybe we do, maybe we don’t. It’s a good thing to ponder about. Wes Anderson has hit another home run with “Asteroid City.” If there is a chance that it is still being shown in any local theaters near you, then I highly recommend for everyone reading this article to go and watch it. Maybe watch it a few times while you’re at it.