Wednesday 24 May 2023

Cannes 2023 - Asteroid City by Wes Anderson

Popular culture has embraced Wes Anderson's world for all the wrong reasons, treating him merely as a meme generator including the Franklin embarrassing one with which all sorts of people on social media including politician were posting some pictures meant to vaguely represent his aesthetic. Yet there is so much more to his art under this colourful and carefully designed facade. After The French Dispatch and its wonderful exuberance, he is back on the Croisette with Asteroid City.

While the American director has fallen in love with Europe and particularly France to the point of moving there and his last film was a tribute to his adoptive country, with his latest he is back to the US (even though the film was shot in Spain!) here actually fully embracing the Americana of the '50s with a few lovely touches of retro science-fiction.

Asteroid City is (obviously) a fictional one, in the middle of the desert, a sort of suburbia that is not actually attached to any big capital or even a small town and it becomes immediately obvious that, for a story set in the middle of such vast expanses, the film is meant as Wes Anderson's lockdown story and being stuck within some confines in an endless, repetitive loop. Indeed the storyline involves a quarantine element and the desert here might as well be walls since the characters seem trapped in a timeless place. 

The main storyline is a coming of age does not carry the weight it should despite the nerdy summer camp vibes and all the narrative strands feel a bit unfocused which has the unfortunate of making all the usually wonderfully stylised elements a bit indulgent since they are not at the service of a strong script this time. There is a story within a story framing device that gives the film its loveliest scene with Margot Robbie at the end but that feels so detached from the rest and makes you wish you were actually watching that film instead.

Among the ensemble cast, Tom Hanks is a new addition yet is not given anything particularly interesting to do (and neither is Wes Anderson's regular Tilda Swinton, which is a shame) and only Scarlett Johansson  emerges, giving her character some depth and an affecting vampish melancholia.

Asteroid City is one that only Wes Anderson fans might enjoy and even them might feel let down.

Review by Laurent de Alberti

Official Selection, in Competition

Asteroid City. Directed by Wes Anderson. Starring Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Tilda Swinton...

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