Stars: Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Jeffrey Wright, Tilda Swinton, Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Liev Schreiber, Hope Davis, Stephen Park, Rupert Friend, Steve Carrell, Matt Dillon
Even by his standards, Wes Anderson’s latest boasts some exquisite, meticulously-fashioned visuals, but once more, there is little resembling actual real human interaction here.
It’s 1955 and a disparate group of grown-ups and their children have descended on a small South Western town for a teen astronomy convention, the ‘Junior Stargazers’. The mostly tranquil atmosphere of the town is occasionally interrupted by gunfire from police car chases and atomic bomb testing nearby.
The chief focus is on the family of Augie Steenbeck (Schwartzman), a recently-widowed war photographer who has yet to tell his children about their mother’s death. His ornery local father-in-law Stanley (Hanks) reluctantly shows up to help them when Augie’s car runs out of gas, but is unable to conceal his disproval for his son-in-law. In the neighbouring cabin is Midge Campbell (Johansson) a world-weary actress. Of course, the beautiful woman is immediately attracted to the misanthropic and emotionally-stunted Augie.
During an award ceremony in a meteor crater, in which the young finalists exhibit their inventions, which include a fully functioning ray gun, a strange visitation occurs, resulting in the military, commanded by General Grif Gibson (Wright), placing the town under quarantine.
A surplus-to-requirements framing device reveals, via Bryan Cranston’s amusingly sonorous narrator, that what we are witnessing is actually a play being staged by a New York theatre company.
Thematically, there are musings about loneliness, family conflict, and the value of human connections in precarious, perilous times, but with dialogue mostly delivered in Anderson’s trademark quick-fire deadpan, the humanity struggles to transcend the director’s rigidly formalist approach.
Adam Stockhausen’s wilfully artificial town design is beautifully ersatz though, replete with two dimensional vistas and vending machines that sell everything from martinis to real estate, while Milena Canonero’s vintage all-American vintage costume kits the cast out in a range of fetching geeky pastels. Droll laughs are provided by sudden perspective-shifting pans, some stop-motion whimsy, and a winning turn from Rupert Friend as Montana, a disarmingly sincere singing cowpoke who romances Maya Hawke’s visiting sweet schoolteacher.
Asteroid City is released 23rd June