FILM REVIEW: Wes Anderson’s ‘Asteroid City’

American auteur filmmaker Wes Anderson is back with another addition to his eclectic filmography, Asteroid City. With a stacked ensemble cast including Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks and a host of others, this sci-fi romantic dramedy is now playing in theaters nationwide. 

On the surface, the narrative of the film itself is displayed as a period piece set in 1955, following a group of students and parents that travel to a town called Asteroid City for a Junior Stargazer convention. However, the narrative that we see playing out is actually the televised production of a fictional stage play (called “Asteroid City”) within the real-world universe of the film. An extremely meta and self-aware movie, the internal storytelling devices of the play provide commentary on the external storytelling of the filmmaking, and vice-versa. A thematic through-line in Wes Anderson’s filmography are the human struggles of grief, mourning, and longing – and the very different ways in which people process these emotions. Asteroid City may possibly be the purest distillation of Anderson’s exploration of these themes in his work. 

Tom Hanks plays the role of Stanley Zak, an older gentleman who is reckoning with the loss of his daughter. He has a strained relationship with his son-in-law Augie Steenbeck (Jason Schwartzman), but possesses a deep love for his four grandchildren. In a conversation with Augie, Stanley speaks directly to the idea of seeking peace and contentment in the midst of immense pain and heartache. “In my loneliness, I’ve learned to give complete and unquestioning faith to the people I love. I don’t know if that includes you, but it included my daughter, and your four children,” Stanley says. 

What makes Wes Anderson such a special director is that an entire review could be devoted solely to analyzing his iconic technical filmmaking style. The meticulousness of the sets and production design – and the fashion in which the camera moves through this intricately constructed art direction – has inspired thousands of imitations and loving homages. However, what separates Anderson’s movies from a TikTok trend is the beautiful substance beneath that style. Sometimes life feels like a dreamscape, and some dreams feel even more vivid than real life. Wes Anderson’s films nimbly walk this line, often times play jump-rope with it. This is the kind of storytelling that has staying power with viewers long after they leave the movie theater – and is why Asteroid City is my current favorite film of 2023.