peteg's blog - noise - movies - 2023 08 06 AsteroidCity

Asteroid City (2023)

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Wes Anderson's latest. It's a smoodgery of currently popular themes: a retro 1950s desert/Palm Springs aesthetic (see Don't Worry Darling, Big Bug, The Last Picture Show, Ingrid Goes West, Barbie, etc. etc.) with a side of atomic bomb tests (Oppenheimer) and hefty doses of self reference/indulgence (The Darjeeling Limited, Isle of Dogs, etc.). Oh yes, also aliens and lockdowns. The soundtrack often reaches for desert cliches, less effectively than Natural Born Killers. It is so close to animation, with the roadrunner a hat or hand tip to the Warner Bros. Looney Tunes classics. The theatre frame is absolutely archaic (c.f. all the Tennessee Williams adaptations).

Anderson is better when he has a story to tell (e.g. with his masterwork The Grand Budapest Hotel and derivation of Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr Fox). Here we're shown a bunch of skits in his now-customary nested fashion (c.f. The French Dispatch) that are little more than themes, making me feel that the narrative well has run dry. I did enjoy some of the gags, especially the row of vending machines, one of which retailed arid real estate adjacent to the barebones existing development. (There is no water.) The generally flat aesthetic is an Anderson signature but given the overstuffing of frames I put my effort into trainspotting the actors: I was surprised to see Tom Hanks fill the Bill Murray slot while Jeffrey Wright mostly just channels JK Simmons's Cave Johnson from Portal 2. This is not Tilda Swinton's finest effort, and Steve Carell is capable of doing a lot more than playing it straight. Also Adrien Brody, a grown-up Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Jeff Goldblum, Bryan Cranston, Ed Norton, Margot Robbie done up as Elizabeth I, Willem Dafoe, and so on.

Overall: too much show and not enough pony. Manohla Dargis: a critic's pick. Dana Stevens: so much nostalgia, so many underdeveloped storylines, Anderson's "imagination [is] a place far richer and stranger than the most complex online database" — clearly she's never visited The On-Line Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences. Michael Wood: shallow? Glenn Kenny got right into it. Butterflies squeezing hearts with sharp pincers? Oh my. Luke Goodsell: definitely Close Encounters of the Third Kind, apparently Mars Attacks!, and how did I miss Jarvis Cocker? And so on.