Per Matt
Just when you thought a Wes Anderson film couldn’t get filled with any more Wes Anderson-isms, the filmmaker finally releases Asteroid City! And fans of the auteur are ecstatic, if they can only interpret his work correctly.

For his eleventh feature film, Wes Anderson has written and directed a story that will either be a hit or a miss for moviegoers that will largely depend on their interest in his quirky past work. In this one, Asteroid City is not an actual place. In fact, it does not exist. It is the primary location of an “apocryphal fabrication,” where all of its characters are fictional, you see, because it is actually the location of a play that takes place within this movie.

This small town located within the Tomahawk Mountains is based on a nondescript location in Nevada during September of 1955. This “imaginary tale” details small-town life in the wild, wild west, featuring the 5,000-year-old Arid Plains Meteorite and random atomic bomb tests in the background. Participating in Asteroid Day festivities, which is a three-day celebration, are the Junior Stargazers and the Space Cadets, which is presented by the United States Military-Science Research and Experimentation Division and funded by the Larkings Foundation.

Augie Steenbeck (played by Jason Schwartzman), a recent widower, has brought his children to participate in the event, while finally acknowledging his wife’s death. Along the way, the family runs into quite a few strange characters, as well as an out-of-this-world admission, which only invites a governmental quarantine.

Will these odd strangers be able to get along and briefly live together before the going gets tough? Find out by watching Asteroid City!

Now, instead of a movie within a movie, this one features a play within a movie, where the characters are actors playing actors. If that wasn’t abundantly clear, perhaps the constant time jumps and the breaking of the fourth wall will only further confuse the viewer. Or perhaps they will clarify the storyline. But if those story elements weren’t confusing enough, there’s so many Wes Anderson-isms crammed into this one, you probably won’t be able to determine what exactly is going on here, much like me.

Anderson is known for writing dialogue featuring too-cool-for-school characters who have a way with their language. Their conversations are short, precise, always with a rhythm about them, like a symphony of sound which often include awkward silences to increase the tension. They’re well-written characters who always know more than they actually reveal on the screen, or here in the stage inside the screen. Their scenes are weird with a strange syncopation, and I can’t get enough of them ever since watching Rushmore for the very first time.

And speaking of Rushmore, Bill Murray has been a long-time collaborator with the filmmaker, who unfortunately doesn’t make an appearance here, due to an outbreak of COVID-19. Lucky for us, a brief trailer was filmed with him after getting better to offer a What If scenario for this film…

The cinematography is breathtaking and the acting is top notch including four Oscar winners and 10 nominees, but what’s it all about? Is this film searching for the meaning of life? Perhaps. Is it commenting about infinity? Could be. Curiosity and the theory of celestial flirtation might be its main theme, but is that it? Is Asteroid City much like Seinfeld, the TV show about nothing?

When a main character finally admits to its director about not totally understanding the play, he’s simply told, “Doesn’t matter. Just keep telling the story…” Yes, this is about Wes Anderson, much like the playwright, Conrad Earp, who’s described as being “unequalled in passion and imagination,” so perhaps this was all a big-screen therapy session for the filmmaker, as a tax write-off…

“I don’t think I should be alone in a building with real windows…”

Asteroid City feels like constant social commentary by the filmmaker, who simply can’t settle down on one topic. Personal tragedies, quarantine, old-fashioned values, conspiracy theories, idolization, torn-apart families, astrogeology and Earth-shattering truths are discussed, but maybe this one is all about COVID-19, which seems odd and yet accurate after having watched it entirely.

Much like Kevin Smith’s View Askewniverse ensemble of actors, Anderson’s all-star troupe has grown with each release, now including Tom Hanks and Bryan Cranston to the filmmaker’s ensemble, among others, who will seemingly pop into many of his following projects. As much as I would’ve loved to see Bill Murray and Tom Hanks share the screen together, I’ve definitely got something to look forward to with Anderson’s next release.

Despite its uneven storytelling, Asteroid City is still a pretty great movie featuring a spot-on soundtrack (Anderson is only eclipsed by Quentin Tarantino for having an uncanny prowess for picking previously released tunes that accurately define his tales). I hope more people will check it out on home video and streaming services than the rather limited audiences who watched it at movie theaters and suspect it’ll attract some attention during the awards season.

“I love gravity. It might be my favorite law of physics, at the moment.”