Asteroid City

Asteroid City ★★★½

After the mega-dud hat trick of The Grand Budapest Hotel, Isle of Dogs, and The French Dispatch, watching a new Wes Anderson film was starting to feel like a chore. In short, Anderson’s increasingly expansive world-building and interminable slapstick endings, coupled with diminishing emotional returns, were bumming me out. Would Asteroid City really be any different?

Well, it is, and it isn’t. This may be the most idiosyncratic film Anderson has ever made (which is saying something). Its mélange of multiple storylines and meta layers all but demands a second viewing. Even then, I have my doubts. Asteroid City is almost all interludes with very few satisfying resolutions, though not so much narratively as intellectually and emotionally. And that’s also what makes it more intriguing than any Wes Anderson film in a long time. If the promise isn’t completely realized, at least there is some promise to relish. These questions, for me, are an improvement.

It’s also darkly funny, with the humorous pathos providing a much-needed chip in the refined Anderson veneer. Jason Schwartzman always manages to both channel and defy the Anderson way, often in the same beat. His large presence here helps immensely. And if Tom Hanks and Scarlett Johansson aren’t quite the anarchic antidote that Gene Hackman was in The Royal Tenenbaums, they’re a warm and welcome addition to the formidable Anderson troupe. They and Schwartzman are the central soul of the film. Their interactions, however much they are filtered through deadpan Andersonisms, still cut through all the (admittedly beautifully rendered) fuss.

Talk to me after my second viewing (if it happens), and call me cautiously optimistic...

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