In preparation for the hopeful box office hits of “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” in July, Wes Anderson’s newest addition to the canon of whimsically artsy flicks brings moviegoers “Asteroid City.” The film sets the tone for the coming season, casting the theater in an Andersonian pastel hue that’s necessary for the first official post-pandemic summer. Anderson delivers a scrapbooked narrative about a group of young brainiacs and their malaise-afflicted parents at a space cadet summer camp. The movie is set in the middle of a desert that looks like a dollhouse ghost town whose program is interrupted by the arrival of a quiet and enigmatic alien.
Set in a faux-nostalgic 1950s desert, “Asteroid City” plays with Americana visual aesthetics, which perfectly embodies the postmodernism that Anderson’s cinematic style is typically associated with. One of the most miraculous feats of his films is that they always feel familiar, even to a brand-new set of eyes. That’s probably why his works are most recognizable by their visuality, and “Asteroid City” makes up for its quirky, non-linear plot line with pleasing imagery similar to most films that are touted for their artiness. The film is full of still shots that would make for compelling Tumblr blog posts, and in some ways, feels more set up to do that than to make any sort of deep exploration of the human condition.
Second to the cinematic aesthetic of Anderson’s films, “Asteroid City” also stays true to tradition by way of its star-studded (and really, really white) cast. There’s Scarlett Johanson emulating the beautiful mania of Marilyn Monroe and is accompanied by Willem Dafoe, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzmann and even Margot Robbie for a brief cameo. Unfortunately, keeping with tradition also means that the cast lacks any semblance of diversity, which is a turn-off for many viewers. In some ways, “Asteroid City” and the catalog of Wes Anderson’s films are pretty Burtonesque — and not in a good way.
However, the point of “Asteroid City” doesn’t seem to be in the effort of making any groundbreaking social commentary, which might be okay — that’s not really the motivation to watch Wes Anderson films, anyway. What this film and its predecessors do well is curating a unique approach to cinematography, music and fashion that is both vintage and modern, evoking the sense and style of “twee” to sentimentalize the idea of being kind of quirky and geeky, and mostly harmlessly, hipster.
Verdict: Clearly, “Asteroid City” can be praised more for its dedication to aesthetics than its storytelling — which is more confusing to the audience than anything else. All in all, the film isn’t a waste of time to see, though, as it’s still a solid reason to get out of the house and have some popcorn and a slurpee, which is what summer is all about.