Asteroid city review steve carrel

Asteroid City review | Wes Anderson at his whimsical best


When five of America’s brightest young minds arrive in the desert to present their inventions, an unusual encounter will keep them longer than expected in Wes Anderson’s new film.


Movies, when you think about them for too long, shouldn’t work. The unique cadence of a scripted conversation, jarring back and forth between cuts and a relationship with time that never really makes logical sense all add to a strong sense that all of this stuff is just made up.

Wes Anderson, of course, has made a career out of embracing this philosophy. His style is at once meticulously choreographed and surprisingly down-to-earth: characters might frequently spout passages of what sounds like Buddhist philosophy, but they’ll still struggle to string a sentence together when a person they fancy sidles into frame.

Asteroid City, then, plays out like a magic trick. Anderson leans into his odd, disconnected stylings at every turn. There is, as is often the case with his work, every chance even the set-up will prove divisive. Presenting the events of the titular desert town as a televised staging of the making of a play (bear with me) is hardly a move designed to appeal to Anderson-agnostics.

Act breaks are announced with title cards; dialogue often repeats words unnecessarily, and every actor delivers lines with a typical combination of arch-sincerity and complete disinterest. Every effort made in every scene reminds us that the whole thing is constructed like an elaborate cuckoo clock.

Asteroid city review bryan cranston

Bryan Cranston’s ‘Host’ presents the action through a black-and-white television drama (Credit: Courtesy of Pop. 87 Productions/Focus Features)

The real magic, then, is that the film frequently makes you forget what you know. In a way, Asteroid City is Anderson leaning most heavily into the style which has inspired TikTok trends and terrifying AI imitations alike. But it’s also the work of a director deeply aware of their own style, and willing to use it in unexpected and beautiful new ways.

If this all makes Asteroid City sound a little inaccessible, then don’t worry; like the cuckoo clock, though the mechanism is complex, the end result is delightful. A row of identical vending machines stock everything from soup to real estate. The 1955 setting is stuffed to the brim with the kind of quaint sci-fi technology you’d expect in early Star Trek episodes. There’s even, to confuse the metaphor further, a little animated bird popping in from time to time.

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Like all Anderson’s films, it’s this lightness that makes the emotional punches hurt like hell when they come, and in Asteroid City, probably more than any of his filmography since 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom, boy, do they come. Unafraid to delve into some knotty family dynamics – lost parents, new romances, reconciliation between widower and father-in-law – it examines the depths of human emotion like an alien looking curiously at a plant.

The surprising end to the trick is that it all works seamlessly. Asteroid City might not convert any Anderson-sceptics in the audience, and at times the meta quality of the narrative could begin to stretch the patience of even the hardest of fans. But by the time a steam train rumbles through the little Southwestern town as the credits roll, it’s clear the film that preceded it is one of the director’s best. A bold, visually striking dissection of his own relationship to cinema – it feels just a little bit like magic.

Asteroid City will be released in cinemas in the UK and Ireland on 23 June.

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