"Asteroid City" Film Review

Asteroid City (2023) - IMDb

"Asteroid City" Film Review

Rating: 3.5/5

By: Nathaniel Simpson

    Wes Anderson is known for the beautiful style of his films. Whether it's fantastic films like "The Grand Budapest Hotel" or "Moonrise Kingdom", he is able to convey so much emotion and, at times, humor, into his films, making them unlike any other film you have ever seen before. His 2023 film, "Asteroid City", is no different. It's enjoyable, hilarious and odd at times, and is full of a slew of colorful and absurd characters. However, in this outing, I think Anderson made his film a little more complicated than it had to be, deciding to go for style over substance in some portions of the movie. While I did quite enjoy this new adventure he sent the viewers on, I think it is simply not his best. 

    The movie opens in black and white, 4:3 aspect ratio, with a narrator (Bryan Cranston) telling the story of a playwright Conrad Earp (Edward Norton) and his cast of characters. What we see when the film switches to color and changes aspect ratio is a dramatization of the playwright's play, aptly titled "Asteroid City". The play is where we spend most of our time, learning about the Steenbeck family, which consists of Augie (Jason Schwartzman), his son Woodrow (Jake Ryan), and his three other daughters who like to pretend they're various monsters. They have arrived in Asteroid City to attend the Junior Stargazer convention after the death of Augie's wife and the kids' mother. 

    While there, he meets famous actress Midge (Scarlett Johansson), who is also at the convention with her daughter. They start to talk and become intertwined, leading them to focus on their real grief with each other while being in Astro City. When a supernatural event happens and the town is put on quarantine, it makes every character question why they are there and where they fit in the society of life. 

    Like his other films, this movie is absolutely stunning. The cinematography and color gradient that Anderson uses in his film is unlike any other you have ever seen, and it fits his specific style. His films contain such grand and odd stories that the cinematography and visuals just perfectly fit into the whole world that Anderson creates. 

    Another aspect that is sort of a given is the wonderful cast of characters. Anderson really does hit the jackpot when he is casting his films; he is able to secure some of the best and most famous actors for his films. However, I think it is the way he is able to write and craft these characters that really makes them memorable. He gives these characters such traits that are able to distinguish them from others, and their dialogue is unlike any other character dialogue you'll find in cinema today. While most movies use excessive swearing and modern language, Anderson's characters talk very formally, like you have stepped back in time and are watching a movie from the '50s. 

    Now, here's the problem I have with this film in particular: it just seems like too much. There is no doubt that Anderson is a masterful filmmaker and is excellent at his craft, but it really seems like he bit off more than he can chew here. His stories are connected in the way that this is basically a film about a play, but other than that, they have no similarities or ties. Yet, the movie explores both aspects of the story as a whole. Because of this, it just seems very convoluted and confusing at times. He tries to make this more seem more intelligent and bold than it actually needs to be. I would have been happy if just had one story over another, and then he focuses that other story as the main plot of his next film. 

    This isn't to say I didn't enjoy these stories; I found them quite entertaining. There are fantastic segments in both stories, especially with Maya Hawke's character trying to teach her young class while they are fascinated by the Alien and when Johansson's character who plays the actress is receiving letters for her to come back to the play by Earp. I think they are masterfully done, but don't fit into the same film together. 

    I think because of this, the movie unfortunately suffers from some pacing issues as well. For me, the first half seemed to drag quite a bit. It felt like Anderson didn't really know how to set up the beginning and added a slew of plot details together before the arrival of the alien. However, when we get into the second and third acts of the play, I think the film really takes off from there and delivers an excellent motion picture about dealing with loss, grief, the randomness of life, and where we all fit here. It really packs in all the emotions and themes, and I genuinely think the second half of this film is far better than the first hour or so. 

    As many know, this movie boasts a massive (and impressive) cast list, including the actors I mentioned earlier and faces like Tom Hanks, Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum, Tilda Swinton, and many more. But here's the thing, many seem like minor characters that didn't need to be there. It seems like he has these slew of actors in his back pocket that he feels obligated to use, even though there is really no place for them. He could have easily eliminated many of the characters, and it wouldn't make the film seem as scatterbrained as it does. 

    It is easy to appreciate and enjoy what Anderson did with this film, but I simply don't think it is his best. There were some aspects I didn't like as much as I did others, and the story is a lot. I think if he focused on telling one cohesive story and eliminating some of the other plot lines, this movie could have been more concise and sharp. I did enjoy what I saw, and I still think Anderson is a master at what he does, but this is simply not as good as some of his previous films unfortunately.