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‘Asteroid City’ is Wes Anderson to the extreme

Wes Anderson has built a name for himself amongst the film lover community. This is not only for the stories that he tells, but also the aesthetics that he creates. The over-saturation, the use of symmetry, cut-and-dry dialogue and precocious characters are just some of the staples of Anderson’s dialogue. It has come to a point where Anderson sees his die-hard fans and deliberately plays into what they want. It is like he is making a film while winking at the audience. This is the case with Anderson’s newest film, “Asteroid City,” which was released in theaters on June 23. If I went into this film not knowing that Anderson made it, I probably would have still figured it out eventually. It is one his rare dives into the fantasy genre, along with carrying some meta aspects. The uniqueness of the film should certainly be appreciated, as should the cinematography, but the story feels a little all over the place. It is unlike any film I have seen before, in more ways than one.

This film is a story within a story. The main story takes place in Asteroid City, a fictional American desert town. People have gathered in Asteroid City for the annual space convention, in honor of the asteroid that once hit this town. Photographer Augie (Jason Schwartzman) has taken his genius son Woodrow (Jake Ryan) and his three daughters to the space convention, while also trying to find a way to tell all of them that their mother has died. While there, he meets famous actress Midge Campbell (Scarlett Johansson), and a spark starts to form between the two of them. They meet interesting people in town, like the mechanic (Matt Dillon), the hotel manager (Steve Carell) and local scientist Dr. Hickenlooper (Tilda Swinton). There are also many fun people who decide to stop by. However, something that could not be believed happens, changing their lives forever. While this is the main story, it also serves as a play actors are performing. Written by Conrad Earp (Edward Norton) and directed by Schubert Green (Adrian Brody), the story of Asteroid City is being performed every night. However, the messages of fiction can seep into reality, which makes the actors wonder “what is the purpose of this story?”

A key feature of Anderson’s films are his star-studded casts. The film was filled to the brim with A-Listers, and they all brought something special to the project. Schwartzman was the star of the film, and he was technically playing two characters, each with many layers. There is his role as Augie, the dad taking a family on a trip while grieving his wife. His emotions came across with this part, even through witty one-liners. Then there was Schwartzman’s part of the actor playing that part, Jones Hall. What these two characters have in common is that they are going through grief, and they are trying to figure out their purpose in life. It is hard to play these two unique characters, especially when one has to subtly bleed into the other. Schwartzman gives each character a lot of depth so that the audience can tell both of these men are truly complicated characters. Then there was Johansson’s role as Midge, which she played excellently. This is a character that seems to lack emotion at first, but then it becomes clear that this is a facade. Johansson can play the breathy Hollywood actress well, as it is what she knows. In addition, she makes the character more than that with expressions of pondering and thoughtfulness. While the character does not come across as that unique, Johansson makes it her own. Another enjoyable part is Norton’s character, Conrad. He is clearly a man that is struggling but he is also dedicated. He is not in the film for that long, but he steals every scene. Everyone wants to know his goals, because Conrad is full of intrigue. Another stand-out performance was Brody as Schubert. While he is not in many scenes and does not show up until late in the film, the character absolutely shines. He comes across off as a stereotypical artistic play director, but he is still passionate and holding on to love. Combining all of that with his bouncing-off-the-walls energy leads to a character that I wish I could see more. I could spend all day listing the brilliance of each big actor and their performance, but that would take up a lot of space. The people in this film are notable for a reason, and this film is able to prove that reason for each of them.

While this film had a meaningful message, it was almost too complex. While the movie within a movie is not a brand new concept, usually there is a lot more of one than the other. While the story within the story was the one with more attention, they both played a very large part in the overall movie. It seemed that the story bled into the reality and vice-versa. As I was watching the movie, I had no idea where it was going. This is usually a good thing, as no director wants to make a movie that is too predictable. However, there were some scenes where I did not fully understand what was happening and it felt that there was a new deep message in every scene. The overall message of the film was that in life, we have to grieve if we want to move on. This is an important idea that was told in a fairly complicated way. I did like the humor in this film, as there were some pretty good dry jokes and amusing sight gags. However, for a movie branded as a comedy, there was a lot of existential thinking along with up and down emotions. When it comes to Anderson’s films, it is not often that you will see a straightforward story, so I was not expecting that. I will also admit that there were some scenes that gripped me when it came to the topic of grief and letting go. However, it almost feels like I would enjoy the movie more if I saw it a second time, after digesting my first viewing.

One thing’s for sure, “Asteroid City” was a pretty movie. That is to be expected with Wes Anderson films. Over the years, the filmmaker has become known for his unique style involving bright pastels, mostly primary colors, as well as unique scenery and clean cut colorful clothing. Everything feels neat and in a proper place. Even though his films are mostly realistic, they feel like they take place in an alternate universe. There is slight uncanniness that makes his worlds look just a little different. These are the qualities that have given Anderson a devoted following. Despite the skillful use of colors, the parts of the films that took place in the story out of the main story were in black and white, but the energy, organization and dry behavior of the characters still gave off Anderson’s vibes. When the film got into the story within a story, the bright colors and quirky set-up became Anderson to the max. At this point, it appears that he is playing into the ideas of what people expect of him, rather than natural choices. It is as if his mise-en-scene is just him winking at the audience. Nevertheless, it is still nice to see. If someone were to watch this movie on mute, they would probably still have a pretty good time.

It is always fun when a film piques curiosity. Anderson is able to do that with his films. From “The Royal Tenenbaums” to “Moonrise Kingdom” to “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” he makes films that get people talking, mostly so they can fully understand what they just saw. “Asteroid City” is certainly not the greatest of Anderson’s films, and it probably will not be grouped with his all-time best films. However, it has a lot of beauty, both in its themes and in its looks. In addition, this film has something for everybody. It has famous actors, bright colors, comedic lines, discussions of grief, desert scenery and a dash of science fiction. Even if someone did not like the film as a whole, there has to be at least a small part that they enjoyed. I, for instance, did not enjoy everything about the stories, but many pieces of scenery and many actors were amusing. Also, while the story within a story got to be a bit exhausting after a while, the way it wrapped up worked out nicely for me, showing that some risks pay off. So if you want to see just how Wes Anderson can fully commit to his style, or explore some stories about grief and longing, with a large dash of humor, watch “Asteroid City” today.

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