REVIEW: Asteroid City – Wes Anderson’s 1950’s sci-fi is charmingly quirky and outlandish

Words by Aarthy Balaganesh

As a devoted fan of Wes Anderson who feels disheartened by the way AI programs such as ChatGPT and Midjourney have distorted his style, I was thrilled to watch his latest movie, “Asteroid City. “Asteroid City” serves as a testament to the fact that the complexities that make his style uniquely special cannot be replicated by artificial intelligence.

Wes Anderson’s eleventh film is currently showing in theatres.

The movie “Asteroid City” presents a story within a story. At the start of the film, we are not initially introduced to the vibrant make-believe desert town of Asteroid City. Rather, the image is in black and white, and it is presented in an old-fashioned 1.37:1 aspect ratio. A TV host (Bryan Cranston) addresses the viewers directly, explaining that what we are about to watch is a televised adaptation of the play “Asteroid City.”

Bryan Cranston stars as “Host” in ASTEROID CITY. Credit: Courtesy of Pop. 87 Productions/Focus Features

Throughout the three acts of the play, there are segments that showcase the development process of the play. The audience is taken on a journey with the playwright (Edward Norton) as he encounters writer’s block and endeavours to assemble the perfect cast. Additionally, we see the director (Adrien Brody) who is struggling with the aftermath of a divorce and residing within the play’s set.

The majority of the movie is dedicated to showcasing the televised play, which portrays a group of quirky characters attending the Junior Stargazer and Space Cadet Convention in Asteroid City. Despite the large ensemble cast, the main focus is on Augie Steenback, played by Jason Schwartzman, a war photographer grappling with the aftermath of his wife’s passing.

Some notable performances in the cast are Scarlett Johansson’s portrayal of Midge Campbell, an actress constantly practising her craft, Tom Hanks as Augie’s father-in-law, Maya Hawke as June, a teacher facing difficulties in managing her students, and Margot Robbie who is credited simply as The Actress.

The character Augie Steenbeck is played by Jason Schwartzman, who portrays a father and war photojournalist to Woodrow. Schwartzman also plays Jones Hall, the actor portraying Steenbeck. The character of Midge Campbell in the movie is portrayed by Scarlett Johansson. She is an actress and a mother to Dinah. In addition, Mercedes Ford plays the role of an actress who is portraying Campbell in the film.

Anderson’s film “Asteroid City” possesses a unique style that may alienate viewers who are not familiar with it, due to its distinct color grading and story structure. However, the film’s emotional depth provides a common ground for understanding themes such as grief and existentialism.

The movie features unique elements such as ray guns, animated roadrunners, and a stop-motion alien portrayed by Jeff Goldblum. Despite these fantastical elements, the story maintains a strong emotional core, which is typical of a Wes Anderson film.

Cast of Asteriod City (2023)

I can’t stop thinking about a particular moment in the third act of “Asteroid City” that feels incredibly raw and relatable. Angie, the character played by the actor, interrupts the scene to question the director about a creative decision. The actor is left feeling confused and unsatisfied when the director fails to provide an explanation or resolution. Instead, the director tells him to “just keep telling the story.” 

Anderson’s message in this line is profound and optimistic. He suggests that we cannot demand answers from the world regarding our existence or anything else, but we can strive to find comfort in the uncertainty and keep sharing our stories.

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