Asteroid City

Asteroid City ★★★★

The French Dispatch may not have been the peak of Wes Anderson’s filmmaking, but it was arguably Wes at his zenith—a film so enamoured with and committed to the style that made him a deity among hipsters that it circled back around from pretension into genuinely enthralling craft. Essentially, Wes Anderson went so far up his own ass that, eventually, his head just popped back up to its original position, with quite an inner journey to recount.

Asteroid City is, equally, not Anderson’s peak moment (that remains The Grand Budapest Hotel), but this revamped vigour in his trademarked style has manifested in perhaps his most touching and personal film since his less formally refined Royal Tenenbaums days. All the expected Anderson-isms are back in full-swing, but the director’s latest rumination on grief and existentialism comes with a clear warmth of intent that surpasses all formal trickery, keeping Asteroid City tethered firmly to Earth amid the pastel production design and endless scrolling of recognizable mugs.

In exploring these ideas, Anderson returns to framing devices similarly seen in Grand Budapest, but the effect here is admittedly far more meta and, consequently, far more exasperating for the Anderson-averse. For what it’s worth, though, these interludes not only supplement the film’s thematic grasp of seeking purpose, but are amusing enough in themselves, paralleling the primary narrative in ways that eventually break with the director’s expected stylistic choices, if only briefly enough to provide hitherto unexplored moments of catharsis in his films.

Possibly the greatest accomplishment Wes Anderson can attest to—aside from cultivating a style often imitated and never duplicated—is his ability to place any number of newcomers to that singular style right into the lineup without losing a step. Anderson newcomers Tom Hanks, Scarlett Johansson, Steve Carrell and Matt Dillon all fit like a glove, while Anderson cementing Jeffrey Wright and Bryan Cranston as more permanent members of his rotation becomes as welcome a sight as Asteroid City itself, presented like an old friend you’ve dearly missed. Everyone wants to work with Wes, and it’s not difficult to see why; he hasn’t gone anywhere, but his generational voice is one that leaves us longing for more as soon as he returns to his hole of antique clock gears and checkered flannel boat shorts.

2023 Ranked.

Cannes 2023. 

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