Few things are as distinct of a calling card as the way a Wes Anderson film appears. Always looking like an oil painting that has come to life and a color palette that would never been in another picture for longer than a glance. Asteroid City continues that tradition as another visually stunning canvas that Wes Anderson has strewn about his deadpan dialogue and humor so dry that it still amazes me that he isn’t British.
A cast list to rival the population of the titular Asteroid City gathers in a southwestern location for a youth space and science convention that is sent careening off course by the appearance of an unexpected guest keenly interested in the meteorite which gives the desert town its misappropriated name…or do they?
The picture looks as if there was a bet between Wes Anderson and an unknown individual that the former could not make a film entirely based within a “Looney Tunes” setting without actually making any portion of the story an actual cartoon. This is almost entirely confirmed by a very clever joke early in the picture that made me howl laughing. To the alleged wager’s extent, Wes Anderson wins handily as the set and backdrops evoke the silliness of it all more than his ridiculous dialogue typically handles. Not wanting to say any of that without crediting the set decorator; it is an impressive feat by Kris Moran (Joker) who can surely be proud of and may come with some awards with her name on it later this year.
The amount of talent in the cast is nothing short of colossal and every single member comes with a delivery that would make any acting coach weep with pride, however there are a select few I wish to highlight for specific reasons. Bryan Cranston is now on the short list of people I wish could narrate my life and demolishes the audience with the funniest line of the movie. Jeffrey Wright is the epitome of comedic authority in a role that could have been devoured by the magnitude of star power surrounding him. Scarlett Johansson is incredible balancing her character with the genuine humor delivered in her lines without ever losing the gravitas that she is THE star in the movie. Finally, Jake Ryan and Grace Edwards could have been overwhelmed from the beginning as young actors flanked by Hollywood royalty on all sides, but they nailed every dynamic and delivery for their roles.
Now that the niceties are out of the way, this story is confusing and riddled with oddities that overshadow the positives mentioned prior. I personally have enjoyed every Wes Anderson film I have seen prior to Asteroid City and found myself disappointed as soon as I saw beyond the pretty colors and talented people. While dry, Anderson’s witty humor usually resonates with me, but something about this just didn’t land. I’m sure it would make more sense during a second or third viewing, but I am unsure this picture is worth the extra time.
Audience members willing to just experience the absurdity that has become Wes Anderson’s style will likely still love the picture as this is all of those things that make his style purely his. Unfortunately, I was lost in the actual narrative or lack therein. It looks great, has extremely talented actors, and no actual story to follow or root for on any level.