I always feel that I have to preface Wes Anderson reviews with the fact that he is one of my favorite directors, and that The Royal Tenenbaums is my favorite movie. But it has been nearly 10 years since Anderson did The Grand Budapest Hotel, and that was his last good film. Perhaps the magic has worn off or perhaps I have just grown up, but this extremely specific style has gone stale, and the heart is missing from a movie so obviously made with love that its absence makes no sense. Regardless, Anderson needs a refresh, and Asteroid City was not it.
In Asteroid City, young astronomers and inventors gather for a yearly awards ceremony, bringing their families along for the festivities. But a government facility in the desert, centered around a small asteroid that left a large crater, attracts a visiting alien, and subsequently all hell breaks loose. A play within a show, the actors struggle to find meaning in their roles, while the characters search for truth among events, leading to a confusing mess of human experience that perhaps has no answer at all.
The Wes Anderson style is written large in Asteroid City, there’s no denying that. The colors, the framing, the odd characters, the bizarre lines; it all screams his vision, and that’s fun, we like his mood, perhaps it’s a bit old, but at least it’s a signature. But Anderson used to add more in; humor, humanity, mistakes, real life, something, anything, to allow audiences to take a break from the still life art of the direction & production. Here, we’re missing a piece, and I think it’s the ability to relate. Jason Schwartzman’s character at one point asks what it is he’s doing and if he’s doing a good job. That vulnerability is a tremendous moment in an otherwise extremely boring film, and needed to be a focal point; he as the everyman, he as us, he doesn’t know, he’s weirded out, he messes up, so that we can feel at ease and that maybe Anderson understands. Making that character much more confused would have helped bring *us* clarity.
Asteroid City is Moonlight Kingdom without the youth, heart, vitality, comedy, and life that film brought us. It’s a self-centered letter to God, but not a movie audiences can sink into. Anderson needs to return to his roots, maybe he needs Owen Wilson by his side again, something, anything, to get his feet back on the ground and to get back on track. Much like with Banshees of Inisherin, audiences will be taken aback if they don’t understand or recognize the theatre of the absurd; the cyclical motion, nothing changing, bizarre musings, but ultimately the lack of substance allowing us to wonder what, if anything, is the meaning of everything. Asteroid City has solid parts, but the magic is missing, and that’s simply sad.
My rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆