Asteroid City

Asteroid City ★★★

This is a brand new movie but it feels very much like a special edition re-issue of something released into theaters at some indistinct time in the halcyon past. It’s ornamentalized, editorialized, re-packaged, wrapped in layers of meta-appreciation, as if it were commemorating itself. That’s very much in keeping with the instant nostalgia that’s a hallmark of Anderson’s work, and all that emotional distance can be obfuscating. But, if it wasn’t already obvious, that has become the point. He is just “playing make believe,” but drawing out all of the child-like misapprehensions involved in make believe games to the Nth degree. Here he traps a dozen or two oddballs in a desert town and plays them off one another like a set of little plastic army soldiers. Stuff happens, like nuclear bomb tests and extra-terrestrial visitations, but none of it is really as consequential as the fun of putting together, say, a random movie star with a random war photographer. It’s all fairly diverting if not fully engrossing, with the exception of the small coterie of over-achieving science fair teens at the heart of the movie. As usual, when Anderson engages more directly with his inner child, the best of his instincts comes to the fore, and his narrative feels truly alive. Less so with his adult characters.

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