The stories of Wes Anderson’s films can be best compared to Russian nesting dolls. Throughout their running time, the layers and deeper meanings begin to present themselves. Films like Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), Moonrise Kingdom (2012), The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), and The French Dispatch (2021) made this notion a reality. Those stories excited viewers by making them emotionally engaging and consistently surprising. His latest film, Asteroid City, is another multilayered, period-piece, comedy in the same vein.
Asteroid City follows writer Conrad Earp’s (Edward Norton) fictional play titled Asteroid City. The play follows Auggie Steenbeck (Jason Schwartzman), who is the grieving father of a science-obsessed family. He travels with his children Woodrow (Jake Ryan), Pandora (Grace Faris), Andromeda (Ella Faris), and Cassiopeia (Willian Faris), to the fictional 1950s-esque town also called Asteroid City. During a trip to compete in a junior stargazing event, an intergalactic disruption changes the world of the characters forever.
Going into any Wes Anderson film, you know the cast is going to be stacked. To say that the cast includes Scarlett Johansson (Her), Tom Hanks (The Green Mile), Bryan Cranston (Trumbo), Jeffrey Wright (Casino Royale), and Tilda Swinton (Okja) barely scratches the surface of the stars. Half the fun of Asteroid City is seeing a cavalcade of stars participating in even the smallest roles. Anderson’s eccentric screenplay gives everyone a moment without one actor overtaking a scene. It is a tricky narrative tightrope that only an Anderson film can accomplish. The massive ensemble goes to show just how much actors enjoy the candy-coated worlds Anderson creates.
The home release of Asteroid City is loaded with eight behind-the-scenes featurettes. Mostly one- to two-minute vignettes, they show Anderson’s comradery with his actors. Featurettes such as “The Desert Town (Pop. 87)” and “The Players” showcase his jovial nature. While those are short features, they prove a point about his film. Anderson creates sets and atmospheres for his actors to feel comfortable in. The actors are allowed to be eccentric and odd with their performances in ways no other director can accomplish. Those eccentricities create a finished product that is thoroughly engaging.
With the intricacies in the plot, Asteroid City completes a difficult task which modern films struggle with. The story makes audiences think and, most importantly, feel throughout its runtime. Jason Schwartzman (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) delivers one of the year’s best performances. In his dual role as Auggie and actor Jones Hall, he has to portray a vulnerability. Both men are tormented in their own ways by the grief they feel. Auggie is tortured by the loss of his wife, whereas Jones is tortured by the loss of his lover (Earp). It gives Schwartzman new depths to explore as an actor with incredibly satisfying results. This is a great expansion on the roles Schwartzman has previously played as a regular collaborator with Anderson. The same could be said for the supporting cast of actors.
Certain actors get more depth in their dual roles than others. Johansson gets the most depth outside of the play in a very funny sequence with Jake Ryan (Moonrise Kingdom). The other actors get less of that interesting dimensionality of performances. That would be a problem if the film wasn’t as funny. Where certain characters do not have depth, they are given absolutely hysterical moments. A running bit with Liev Schrieber (Scream) and his son (Aristou Meehan) had me in stitches. Those interspersed moments help the film’s deeper layers feel all the more palatable. The depth mixed with the humor creates a film that is much deeper than anything Anderson has done.
Asteroid City is a film that can be deeply appreciated upon rewatches. Its story is so layered that its eccentric moments are quite sincere. The results create a film that follows characters who have existential crises. How they deal with them delivers a very funny and substantive result. Its Blu-ray transfer is beautiful on the screen, making the scenery feel vibrant. Audiences will never feel like the colorful and engaging story is a play. I highly encourage watching the bonus features to fully appreciate Anderson’s vision. Asteroid City deserves your time at home. It’s a simple story on its surface, but if you give it the chance, its deeper meanings can make it a fulfilling experience.
Asteroid City Special Features:
- The Making of Asteroid City – With Wes Anderson as your guide, take a personal tour behind the scenes of “Asteroid City” and get insider’s access into set creation, performer preparation, music rehearsals and more.
- Desert Town – Wes Anderson pulls back the curtain on the creation of Asteroid City with an intimate look at what goes into building a town in the middle of a desert and bringing its quirks to life.
- Doomsday Carnival (Digital, Blu-ray™, DVD Exclusive) – Go even further inside Asteroid City as period costumes, classic cars, and camera tricks combine to create a bustling midway of carnival rides and lookie-loos anticipating an alien arrival.
- Montana and Ranch Hands – Witness a quiet prayer evolve into a hand-clapping country hoedown as the film’s fictional band inspires a sudden dance number through their banjo, bass, and washboard.
- The Players (Digital, Blu-ray™, DVD Exclusive) – Go behind-the-scenes with the stars of Asteroid City.
- The Alien (Digital Exclusive) – Designers come up with the concept and Jeff Goldblum suits up in the costume to create the captivating look and mesmerizing movements of the movie’s extraterrestrial creature.
- The Roadrunner (Digital Exclusive) – Get a peek at the planning, puppeteering, and careful camera positioning that animates an artificial animal with scene-stealing personality.
Available on digital and streaming on Peacock August 11th, 2023.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD August 15th, 2023.
For more information, head to the official Focus Features Asteroid City webpage.
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.