Asteroid City

Asteroid City

I don't need to tell you that Wes Anderson's movies are highly stylized, nor do I need to tell you that many critics of his work have complained that his stylization works at the expense of emotional credibility and that "Rushmore," which was released three decades ago, represents his most successful balancing act of visual design and genuine poignance. It's a matter of taste. I've never been alienated by the lively neatness of Anderson's frames. And as far as I'm concerned, "Asteroid City," his latest collaboration with cinematographer Robert Yeoman, may be the most incandescently beautiful of all their movies so far. Additionally, its emotional impact is substantial. Imagine a gorgeous butterfly landing on your heart and then squeezing on that heart with sharp pincers you never knew it had.

Anderson's new movie is the most ingeniously conceived and seamlessly executed of his anthology/nesting multi-narratives. Earp's play is set at a remote Western meteor crash site hosting a sort of Space Camp. The place is, as the settings for all of Anderson's movies have tended to be, beautiful geographically/geologically (the orange of the desert and the cloudless blue sky create the visual equivalent of eating a Creamsicle on a sunny day) as well as in terms of building layout and design. None of the details, from the copy on the diner front to the displays of the vending machines, are extraneous.

All of the film's action—and there's so much of it, and all of it revels in the joy of creation, of performance, of human invention that seeks a cosmic splendor—eventually concentrates on the banal and yet all-consuming question, "What is the meaning of life?" Of course, the movie's characters don't always put the inquiry so plainly. Here it takes the form of the statement, articulated like a plea: "I don't understand the play." Followed by the heartbreaking query, "Am I doing it right?" 

"Asteroid City" portrays a gorgeous gallery of people in various guises, performing art and performing life, all trying to do it right. It's a sui generis contraption that nevertheless has its heart in the modern classics—I felt echoes of "Our Town" and "Citizen Kane" and such throughout. But most clearly, by the end, I heard the voice of a different master. Recommending the film to an old friend, I told him that "Asteroid City" was comparable to another great cinematic celebration/interrogation of performance as life, life as performance: Jean Renoir's "The Golden Coach." Yeah, it's that good.

— Glenn Kenny,

Asteroid City

Thu September 14, 7:30 PM, Muenzinger Auditorium

United States of America, 2023, in English, 105 min • official site

Screenplay: Wes Anderson, Director: Wes Anderson, Story: Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, Cast: Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Jeffrey Wright, Tilda Swinton



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