Jason Schwartzman’s Augie Steenbeck and his four children’s car break down in Asteroid City. Marooned in a limp, one-street tourist attraction set next to an asteroid crater, they are soon joined by several similarly-uptight characters for the city’s annual stargazer science award. However, come the night of the presentation, aliens visit the town, reclaim their bowling ball-sized asteroid and leave – all of which traps Wes Anderson’s bemused menagerie of movie stars inside a hastily-conceived military lockdown.
… more ‘Close Encounters of the Wes Andersen Kind than The Andromeda Strain.
Lockdown. Let that phrase sink in. Lockdown. -Is a quarantine comedy, even with Wes Andersen-tinted twitches and overly affected acting, “too soon”? Well, possibly not, in a movie that is more ‘Close Encounters of the Wes Andersen Kind than The Andromeda Strain.
More lo-fi than sci-fi, Asteroid City is a talking painting where Wes’s neurotic characters are (again) far more distracted by themselves than by any meteorites, movie stars or emaciated men from Mars.
Moving in next door to Schwarzman’s pipe-wielding father, Scarlett Johannsen is a star in a decaying orbit. As she half-heartedly flirts with him, his kids bury their recently deceased mother in a Tupperware box outside as Jeffrey Wright stoically pushes the main plot along with a 1950s military cover-up.
So, do you like fast, droning, meandering sentences like that last one? Good, because then you should be expecting more as everyone in this movie speaks with the hauteur and articulation of a maths prodigy. -And in this one clipped note, you have both the attraction and the repulsion of Wes Anderson’s movies. Everybody is remarkable and nobody is ordinary.
If anything, in increasingly desperate attempts to be even more idiosyncratic, everything shrieks buttoned-down repression. From the acting to the set design and the camera moves, it’s a deliberate stab at artificiality and that’s the bleeding point. This is the ‘Wes Andersen’ style, he’s aiming for. However, you can also now find this banal know-it-all tone in a clutch of AI-generated parodies on YouTube – and there’s the real problem. With his style and individuality becoming even commonplace, Wes Andersen’s movies are retreating in blandness just as the parodies are getting funnier than the movies they’re apeing – and there’s the problem.
Sadly by withdrawing further and further into his amazing, painterly aesthetic, the most painful casualty here is the storytelling which so marked out The Grand Budapest Hotel for the classic it is. With its willingness to follow a central charter in Rafe Fiennes’s hotel manager rather than a smorgasbord of simpering cyphers, we’ve now arrived at a point of dilution where this vodka has no more zest.
In the end, Asteroid City is a kind of curious, desert rose. Beautiful to look at but best left alone unless you can accept its bloom.