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MOVIES: Asteroid City - Review

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Asteroid City is the kind of film that you’ll either hate or love; there’s no middle ground. My stance on Wes Anderson is thus: like most of you, probably, I like the films that I watched by him first. Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Grand Budapest Hotel, incredible, but the more I watch the more his style starts to test my patience: cold, empty and blank. The French Dispatch put me to sleep.

And just like his prior work: Asteroid City very nearly does, too. A star-studded comedy about aliens inexplicably appearing in a small town in the middle of nowhere, set to the structure of a play in which we learn more about the actors playing the parts in what should be a delightfully meta structure, but it just comes off as insufferable.

The cast is so big but Anderson forgets why a-list casts work and the character actors are not present here. Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Jeffrey Wright, Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, the list goes on: a stacked source of talent that just feels there to be there. None of their roles are given any substance or depth and I didn’t buy any of their characters as being anything else than the actors in quirk mode for the sake of Anderson. It’s hard to see their characters and not the actors; and none of them succeeded in making me believe in any of this. That’s part of the deliberate coldness of Anderson, his style is designed to alienate. Quite literally. But Asteroid City fails to appease – hitting all the usual Anderson tropes with the lack of substance that most of his movies have. Anderson has enough gravitas to not seem like a copycat and it’s better thankfully than Amsterdam but he’s fallen into the same trap of David O. Russell: the big names; at the extent of all else.

It's empty, hollow and soulless. An exercise in style at the extent of all else – it’s blunt, hard-edged and not exact in its subtitles. A popular Tiktok trend doing the rounds lately has been “x in the style of Wes Anderson” and the AI misses the point of why the best Wes Anderson movies work so well; they’re so full of depth and humour; but he’s lost that kind of spark and falls into the same trap that these Tiktok videos have fallen into – a parody of himself.

At some point, Anderson got wrapped up in the idea of casting big names because they’re big names and forgets to do anything interesting with them. Barely any character development because of the endless list of names means that these characters feel as parody-ready as the film itself; and it’s not helped by the act-break structure that bored me to tears: we don’t need to be reminded that the whole thing’s a play with the structure act being insufferable at the best of times. I kept seeing “act one, scene x” and was groaning that we were only in act one: this is a film that I needed to end, and it wasn’t even two hours long. The framing device only served to pull the movie out of key scenes just as when Asteroid City threatened to get interesting - a shame as there are some great ideas buried in here we just maybe needed to ditch the meta framework completely; especially when it does the opposite of what it set out to achieve.

With Asteroid City you’re watching the idea of what a Wes Anderson movie should be from Wes Anderson himself. The style and visual cues are inventive, and the concept of an alien coming from the skies with no source of logical reason is examined in a great way; and it would be perhaps interesting had Jordan Peele not given us a much better take in Nope last year, any other comparison flat out laughable given that's the much better film. I’d like to see a stripped down Anderson and back-to-basics next; one where he’s forced not to cast big talent as it’s clearly a massive set-back. He can cast any name in the industry he wants at this point, but where’s the fun in that?

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