Scarlett Johansson in director Wes Anderson's ASTEROID CITY, a Focus Features release. | Credit: Courtesy of Pop. 87 Productions/Focus Features

Visiting the strange and eccentrically pleasurable cinematic dimension that is Asteroid City, we get a strong feeling of dizzy homecoming, but with the furniture all rearranged and our sense of order upended. Welcome back to Wes’s world, or at least the latest of Wes’s circus of cinematic worlds.

Asteroid City poster for Cannes | Courtesy: Focus Features

By now, American auteur Wes Anderson can be counted on to deliver films both consistent to his fantastical personal style, but with distinctive elements defining each new film/realm. Fans and casual visitors to Wes’s worlds can conjure up memories of his specific concoctions just by mention of significant titles in his filmography, from the family big top of The Royal Tenenbaums to The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited, The Grand Budapest Hotel, the “kids’ movie” Moonrise Kingdom, and the “dog movie” Isle of Dogs.

In the case of Asteroid City, co-written by Roman Coppola, Anderson turns his attention to a mythical Podunk outpost in the no-man’s-land of Nevada, circa the nuclear testing era. Not unlike Anderson’s last left-field screen adventure The French Dispatch, Asteroid City is a delightfully tangled mess of a narrative, a mix of storytelling modes including theater, retro-Americana kitsch, and extra-terrestrial detours, and tied to a notion of meta-minded “multiverse” created before the m-word was on everyone’s lips and mind.

In this City, Anderson has a field day with his self-invented milieu, as usual, tapping into A-Bomb, ’50s desert rat kitsch and “New Frontier style,” better-living-through-science lore. He giddily toys with visual effects and faux film stock appearances, shifting from grainy black-and-white in the theater-based subplot to a washed-out color palette for the primary location, suggesting Technicolor well past its expiration date.

Add to this an all-star cast — some, like Jason Schwartzman, in the Anderson rep squad for years — featuring the likes of Tom Hanks, Edward Norton (the eccentric playwright behind the very narrative we’re immersed in), Scarlet Johansson, Margot Robbie, Hope Davis, Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston (our untrustworthy Rod Serling–esque narrator), and Jeff Goldblum, natch. Let’s not neglect the animated dancing roadrunner during the end credits, which may or may not be a reference to the influence of the seminal Warner Brothers cartoonscape in Anderson’s ever-quirky mind.

In some alternate universe, where VC money might meet with crazy cultural ideas, there could conceivably be an artisanal amusement park called Wesland. Movie-themed rides would be linked to the premise of various Anderson movie worlds he has created, and the new attraction Asteroid City would be apt to leave fun, scary and deliciously perplexing, by turns.


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