ELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times
When creating a play or any other piece of art, there is always a lot of work done with all aspects to make sure it fully matches the artist’s vision.
Recently, film director Wes Anderson attempted to capture that process with his newest film “Asteroid City.” The film simultaneously depicts the events of a Junior Stargazer convention in a retro/futuristic version of 1955, staged as a play, and the creation of the play, which itself combines popular memory and mythology about aliens and UFOs witnessed in the Southwestern desert in close proximity to atomic test sites during the postwar period of the 20th century.
To begin, the overall concept of the movie is actually rather creative, and viewers can tell there was a vision behind this the director wanted executed. There was definitely a lot of creativity that went into the set design, because it definitely reminded me of other photos and other media I’ve seen from the 1950s. In an odd way, the sets for Asteroid City somewhat reminded me of how they designed Radiator Springs in Pixar’s “Cars” movies because there’s lots of color but also quite a bit of desolation since the city is out in the desert. Those scenes have a stark contrast to the black-and-white scenes that go into detail about the play’s inception, and that combination works rather well. The costuming was also done really well and I could again see the influences from the fashion of that time, and I will admit the costume for the “alien” was straight up nightmare fuel. So overall, there was definitely effort put forth in the aesthetic of the movie, and I have to commend that.
With the rest of the movie, however, I wish there was more effort put forth in terms of the story and screenplay. The overall story uses the “story-within-a-story” method, and there are many times when the “story-within-a-story” method has worked in cinema. Bryan Cranston’s opening monologue of the film depicting the overall creative process of putting the play together is EXTREMELY accurate and funny and I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. I also do like movies about the creative process and how others have worked through it (such as “tick, tick ... BOOM!”), because it’s always interesting to get in creative people’s heads and see how/what they think. However, “Asteroid City” does a terrible job of using the “story-within-a-story” method because it’s just far too convoluted and there’s just too much to attempt to keep up with. Personally, I feel like if Anderson had simplified things somewhat, and kept the story more along the lines of following the playwright as he was working on the story, occasionally showing how he envisions the show, and then ultimately ending the movie on the play’s opening night, THAT would have made the movie work much, much better for me.
The dialogue is equally bad and is comprised of clichés and cheesy one-liners that made me roll my eyes more than once throughout, and it was like the writers were just trying too hard to be quirky and fill the time with big words that were completely opposed to directly addressing what was going on onscreen. Not only that, early every line is delivered in a flat, disengaged monotone and I got very annoyed with that very quickly. That also makes the movie feel much longer than it actually is (thankfully it’s only 105 minutes) and I couldn’t wait for it to be over.
Also, every single character is just so dreadfully flat and unengaging but at the same time tries to be just oh so quirky and eccentric, but there’s absolutely zero character development from anyone. One would think with a cast that includes the likes of Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Bryan Cranston, Steve Carrell and Tilda Swinton (among many others), that would help make the movie somewhat palatable, but even they can’t save this. The teenager characters were also beyond unrealistic and made me roll my eyes extremely hard because, having been a teenager myself, and having a teenage sister, I actually said out loud “No teenager in the history of time has EVER acted/talked like that,” and it was like those parts had been written by AI or a someone who has never been around teenagers. The absolute most annoying character in the movie was this kid who kept trying to get people to dare him to do stupid stuff, and my only thought was “No WAY my parents would have let me be that absolutely annoying.” Ultimately, by about the halfway point of the movie, I was thinking “I honestly do NOT care what happens to ANY of you.”
Overall, I found “Asteroid City” to definitely be more of a style-over-substance experience and I would give the movie a C-minus grade. The overall aesthetic is wonderful to look at and will probably evoke some memories from viewers who grew up around that time period, but there definitely should have been more of a focus on the movie’s story and screenplay, which is extremely jumbled and tries to cram in too much. The dialogue is also rather poorly written and the characters throughout were entirely unengaging, and I felt afterward Wes Anderson had grossly wasted his talented cast. If you’re a fan of Anderson’s past movies, you’ll probably enjoy it, but this is one I probably won’t revisit.