Film critic Jamie Skinner reviews the latest and greatest - Asteroid City, directed by Wes Anderson.

Asteroid City, Cert - 12, Run-time - 1 hour 45 minutes, Director - Wes Anderson

The story of a play following a group of strangers quarantined in a small desert town after an alien encounter.

Wes Anderson has frequently dealt with emotionally disconnected empathy. He feels for his characters, displaying their emotions from a distance. The sighting of the jaguar shark in The Life Aquatic is a prime example. M. Gustave bellowing “take your hands off my lobby boy!” is a glimpse of humanity, and the first sign of a connection between him and Zero in The Grand Budapest Hotel. Not to mention Luke Wilson’s attempted suicide in The Royal Tenenbaums - as he and the audience are unsure of how to deal with his emotions, but know this isn’t the way to go about them.

The writer-director’s style has been frequently imitated with TikTok and Twitter trends leading many to say that anyone can make a Wes Anderson film. Yet, as above hopefully proves, there’s much more to his films than just aesthetic. Indeed, the opening of his latest feature, Asteroid City, demonstrates as Bryan Cranston’s television presenter details that we’re about to see a broadcast of a stageplay with insight into its production; the personal and creative process which the likes of AI just can’t replicate.

Yet, you can’t help but feel that with the themes which crop up there should be more of an emotional connection with the characters. Each of whom are trying to find their place in the world before everything expands into the universe after a brief alien encounter causes the titular desert town to be quarantined. Anxiety rises as the figures are even more unsure of how to express their thoughts and feelings on life and their place in the world.

It’s a point which most comes to the fore in the third act - when depicting both the play, constructing most of the run-time, and the black and white views of its production. The second act building up to this builds-up the striking theme through its individual points for each character. Grief and loss for Jason Schwartzman’s father preparing to tell his children that their mother has passed away, a career of alcoholic and drug addicted characters for actress Midge Campbell (Scarlett Johansson) who aspires for more comedic roles, the teenagers who feel as if they would better fit in on another planet.

On reflection they strengthen. When thinking about what it brings up a rewatch is perhaps warranted- particularly knowing where the film ends - to properly delve into the more poignant themes and moments, often two-way conversations between Schwartzman and Johansson, or Tom Hanks as his father-in-law.

When asked what his play is about, writer Conrad Earp (Edward Norton) responds “it’s about infinity, and I don’t know what else”. Indeed, Anderson’s film deals with a small group of strangers struggling with the idea of infinity. His humour is very much still present, with some more unexpected near-absurdist elements, providing a good deal of chuckles along the way. Not everything in terms of the drama may resonate due to Anderson’s emotional disconnect, but there’s plenty to interest and dwell on afterwards.                                    

Jamie Skinner, Four stars ****