Wes Anderson Can’t Get Ouside of His Own Head in Pensive Meta-Satire “Asteroid City”

Existential and terrestrial, Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City (C-) also proves a quite inert affair within its lovely and meticulous menagerie of production design and between its fussy and overcomplicated bookends. It’s fitting there’s a subplot about aliens, as most actors in Anderson’s ensemble appear to only mimic the way earthly humans actually act and speak. The best thing about the film is its stylized use of whimsical color and imaginative set pieces amidst a widescreen panorama; there’s no mistaking in every genus and species and frame of the picture that it’s an Anderson film. Framed with an obtuse artifice of putting on a theatrical play, the central act of cinema revolves around denizens gathered in a remote desert town for an astronomy and invention convention circa 1955. The characters engage in conversations and quirks, but there’s little narrative thrust or storytelling propulsion governing the work. Vintage Altman it’s not. Much of this mawkish enterprise feels like Anderson bringing a Pinterest mood board to life. Someone must have vociferously complimented him in kindergarten show and tell, as adult Anderson shows great relish cataloguing collections of items and actors. No performer stands out much in this deadpan diorama; Jason Schwartzman as a dad and war photographer is the closest thing to a protagonist, and even his character goes largely undeveloped. The kid actors get a few funny bits, and many of Anderson’s regulars – from Jeffrey Wright to Tilda Swinton – get some droll moments in the spotlight. It’s all pretty stargazing but doesn’t add up to much. 

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