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Asteroid City Reviews

Asteroid City Reviews 1

Wes Anderson’s New Masterpiece

As with all Wes Anderson movies, Asteroid City has a stellar cast, to say the least. To name just a few actors in Asteroid City, you have Tom Hanks, Bryan Cranston, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Steve Carell, Jeff Goldblum, Scarlett Johanson and Margot Robbie. There’s also Jason Schwartzmann, a regular in Wes Anderson movies, as well as Edward Norton, who, after also appearing in Knives Out: Glass Onion, seems to be finally making a comeback.

New York Times Review

Asteroid City
NYT Critic’s Pick
Directed by Wes Anderson

“Asteroid City,” the latest from Wes Anderson, is filled with the assiduous visuals, mythic faces and charming curiosities that you expect from this singular filmmaker. It’s comic and often wry, but like some of his other films, it has the soul of a tragedy. It’s partly set in 1955 in a fictional Southwest town, a lonely four corners with a diner, gas station and motor inn. Palm trees and cactuses stipple the town, and reddish buttes rise in the distance. It looks like an ordinary pit stop save for the atomic cloud soon mushrooming in the sky.

Written by Anderson, the film is about desire and death, small mysteries and cosmic unknowns and the stories that we make of all the stuff called life. It opens in black-and-white on an unnamed television host (Bryan Cranston, severe and mustachioed) in a studio. Tightly encased by the boxy aspect ratio and speaking into the camera, he introduces the evening’s program, a “backstage” look at the creation of a new play, “Asteroid City,” that’s been made “expressly for this broadcast.” He then presents the playwright (Edward Norton), who rises from his typewriter to stand on a bare stage and present the characters.

The suited television host and the broadcast studio with its ticking clock conjure up 1950s live anthology dramas like “Studio One,” and you may flash on Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” when the host and playwright start speaking. Anderson quickly fills up the stage and the film, too. A train chugs in under the opening credits carrying a bounty of goods: gravel, avocados, pecans, John Deere tractors, plump Pontiacs and a 10-megaton nuclear warhead. Jeffrey Wright enters to play a five-star general, while Tilda Swinton shows up as a scientist. Tom Hanks plays a dashing curmudgeon; Adrien Brody makes the muscular theater director.

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The drama starts soon after the playwright’s introductory remarks, except it doesn’t look anything like a theater production. It looks like a film, a meticulous, detailed, visually balanced wide-screen Wes Anderson one. There’s no proscenium, no stage, no wings, no audience. The blue sky stretches over the town; the yellow desert extends into infinity. The characters enter by car and bus, and are shot in long view and intimate close-up, beautifully framed by the camera. The palette is an astonishment, a dusty rainbow of hues. It looks like this story was left to bleach in the sun before being wrapped in transparent yellowed plastic.

Credit…Pop. 87/Focus Features
Asteroid City Reviews 2


The colors are mesmerizing and ever-so-gently destabilizing. These pigments signal that you’ve entered a new fictional realm that, like the television studio, is at once immediately recognizable and somehow foreign. The interplay between the familiar and the strange, like that between the theatrical and the cinematic, is a foundational theme in Anderson’s films, which, like most movies, look a lot like life yet are always different. What makes that difference is art — the voice, sensibility, technique, craft, money, luck and how the thrilling, terrifying mess of existence is gathered, organized and then set loose upon the world.


Divided into acts, the play’s first section commences with the arrival of the newly widowed Augie Steenbeck, a war photographer played by a method-y actor, Jones Hall. (Jason Schwartzman plays both.) Augie, his brainy teenage son, Woodrow (Jake Ryan), and three interchangeable young daughters are visiting for Asteroid Day, an event that commemorates the day (Sept. 23, 3007 B.C.!) a meteor crashed nearby, leaving a crater now overlooked by an observatory. More visitors appear, including a teacher with a flock of children, some singing cowboys and other parents with teens who, like Woodrow, are contestants in an Asteroid Day competition.

Together with Scarlett Johansson, Schwartzman fills out the film’s expressive center with humor and perfect timing. Johansson also has dual roles as both an actor and a character. She’s Midge Campbell in the play, a sultry Hollywood star who rolls into town with her own whiz-kid and a bodyguard. Midge and Augie meet cute at the diner, but their relationship blooms while they’re in their respective rental cabins. There, framed by windows, they face each other and open up, talking in that somewhat deadpan, patently Anderson-screwball way that puts up a snappy, performative front which slowly gives way to deep feeling.

Anderson regularly switches back and forth between the television story and the drama in the town, gradually putting them into meaningful, dynamic and poignant play with each other. There are crises in both, along with self-doubt, confrontations, assignations and discussions about art and life. He’s crammed a great deal into this film, including cinematic allusions and theatrical lore. The play takes place in September 1955, the month that James Dean died in another parched Southwest wasteland; there’s an audition with Jones and the playwright that evokes Brando’s famous one for Tennessee Williams’s “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

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If you know “Streetcar,” you may remember Blanche’s famous cry: “I don’t want realism. I want magic!” It’s a heartbreaking and naked appeal, one that could be uttered (though with far more restraint) by Anderson. There’s so much yearning in “Asteroid City.” Over the years, he has refined his filmmaking, honing the way that he tells stories, how he organizes cinematic time and space. His visual style is so distinct and instantly recognizable that it’s spawned imitators and inspired an Instagram account (and now book) called Accidentally Wes Anderson, a compendium of Anderson-esque visuals that exist in real life.

An accidentally Wes Anderson world is an amusing idea, partly because his films can outwardly seem somehow removed from life despite their agonies, broken hearts, dashed dreams and nuclear weapons. Part of what makes his work memorable and often unexpectedly touching is that his filmmaking — the stylized way he orders the world with his richly populated cast of collaborators — expresses how he navigates the world’s confusions. When Augie shows Midge a bald patch on his head where he was wounded by shrapnel while on assignment, he is sharing a reminder of the horrors that he’s seen. It’s an emblem of his pain, but it’s also an invitation to another person and to us — an appeal to our sympathies.

Asteroid City
Rated PG-13 for atom-bomb imagery and adult relations. Running time: 1 hour 44 minutes. In theaters.

Manohla Dargis is the chief film critic of The Times, which she joined in 2004. She has an M.A. in cinema studies from New York University, and her work has been anthologized in several books. @manohladargis

A version of this article appears in print on June 16, 2023, Section C, Page 1 of the New York edition with the headline: Forget Realism. Here’s Magic.. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe
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About Wes Anderson



Wesley Wales Anderson is an American filmmaker. His films are known for their eccentricity, unique visual and narrative styles, and frequent use of ensemble casts. They often contain themes of grief, loss of innocence, and dysfunctional families. Wikipedia

Born: May 1, 1969 (age 54 years), Houston, TX
Partner: Juman Malouf (2010–)
Children: 1
Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson is a highly acclaimed American film director, screenwriter, and producer known for his distinctive visual style, meticulous attention to detail, and quirky storytelling. Born on May 1, 1969, in Houston, Texas, Anderson has garnered a devoted following for his unique cinematic vision and ability to create whimsical, often offbeat, and emotionally resonant stories.

Anderson’s films often feature meticulously crafted sets, symmetrical compositions, and vibrant color palettes, which contribute to his distinct visual aesthetic. His storytelling style is characterized by dry humor, eccentric characters, and a blend of comedy and drama. Anderson’s films tend to explore themes of family dynamics, love, loss, and the search for meaning and connection. 

Wes Anderson’s films have received numerous awards and nominations, and his unique style has had a significant influence on contemporary cinema. His work continues to captivate audiences with its distinctive blend of humor, style, and heartfelt storytelling.


Some of Wes Anderson’s most notable films include:

  1. “Rushmore” (1998): Anderson’s second feature film, which stars Jason Schwartzman as a precocious teenager navigating love and academic pursuits while clashing with a schoolmate played by Bill Murray.
  2. “The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001): A critically acclaimed ensemble comedy-drama that follows the dysfunctional Tenenbaum family, featuring an all-star cast including Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller, and Luke Wilson.
  3. “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” (2004): A whimsical adventure film about an eccentric oceanographer (played by Bill Murray) who sets out on a quest to hunt down a mythical shark while grappling with personal and professional challenges.
  4. “The Darjeeling Limited” (2007): A poignant and visually stunning film that follows three estranged brothers (played by Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman) as they embark on a train journey across India to reconnect with each other.
  5. “Moonrise Kingdom” (2012): A nostalgic coming-of-age story set on a fictional New England island in the 1960s, where two young lovers run away, prompting the community to embark on a search to find them. The film features an ensemble cast, including Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, and Frances McDormand.
  6. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014): A visually stunning and comedic caper set in a fictional European hotel between the world wars, following the adventures of the hotel’s concierge (played by Ralph Fiennes) and his trusted lobby boy (played by Tony Revolori).


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