Summer traditionally heralds the arrival of blockbuster season, but with it comes a counterpoint a little closer to the arthouse. While the superhero escapades and planet-obliterating CGI rage at peak decibel levels, the warm months also bring at least a couple releases from brand-name auteurs who wield a sense of can’t-miss occasion for a different subset of viewer. Though these films can do quite well for themselves at the box office, we may nonetheless think of it as anti-blockbuster season.
This year, that slot will be occupied by Wes Anderson, whose latest film Asteroid City has been slated to crater cinemas in June. This morning brought the first trailer for the hotly anticipated new transmission from Planet Wes, and with a world premiere at Cannes all but guaranteed, what better time to take stock of all that’s currently known about this intergalactic hyperjump into whimsy?
Anderson commenced shooting on the sprawling ensemble piece in August 2021, tired of sitting on his hands during the thick of COVID and having long since completed The French Dispatch. The small Spanish suburb of Chinchón, fifty kilometers outside of Madrid, stood in for a desert town in the American Southwest that sprang up around a space rock that crash-landed there years before.
In this expanse of sand and sun, ‘Asteroid Day’ takes place to commemorate the day the meteorite struck, as Jason Schwartzman‘s put-upon widower and his children find themselves stranded en route to visit their late mother’s father (Tom Hanks, making his Wes debut). At the same time, actress Midge Campbell (Scarlett Johansson) rolls into town, and gets some rather damning praise from local gossip Hope Davis – all this, just as the town’s Junior Stargazer/Space Cadet convention appears to have made contact with an extra-terrestrial of the green-glowing variety.
Our first glimpse at Asteroid City reveals the film’s star-studded cast – beyond Schwartzman, Johansson and Hanks (who received top billing), we get a look at Jeffrey Wright as a military man kicking off the festivities, Maya Hawke as a schoolteacher, Steve Carrell in a snazzy visor/bolo tie/mustache ensemble, plus Jake Ryan as Schwartzman’s son Woodrow, a couple of years after he stole the show in Bo Burnham‘s Eighth Grade. And that still leaves a big question mark over the roles played by Matt Dillon, Tony Revolori, Tilda Swinton (could she be the alien?), Adrien Brody, Edward Norton, Bryan Cranston, Hong Chau, Willem Dafoe, Margot Robbie, and Jeff Goldblum, among others. Surely there’s more afoot than we’ve been hipped to thus far.
Anderson has fitted his signature hyper-composed style to the desert setting in some clever ways visible from this first glance: the unrelenting sun flattens his deep-focused frames into something closer to a painting or a postcard, with straight, severe lines and tastefully distressed colors. Wes being Wes, however, some things never change. We still have fraught familial relationships between striving sons and broken fathers, a deadpan sense of visual humor reliant on dolly shots that slide perfectly into place, a soundtrack full of excavated obscurities.
What’s not clear is the bigger game here — The Grand Budapest Hotel, Isle of Dogs, and The French Dispatch found Anderson on an antifascism kick, cloaking some pointed political material in his meticulously arranged storybook worlds. Will the arrival of this alien pave the way for statements about humanity, or the response of the state? Word on the street is that part of the film takes place within the cosmos, a turn that this trailers keeps close to its vest, if true.
As longtime LWLies readers will know, we’re big fans of Wes, so we’ll be sure to keep our telescope fixed on this one. Until the Cannes program announcement, like those Junior Stargazers before us, we’ll cast our eyes to the night sky and wonder what wonders may await us.
Asteroid City comes to cinemas in the US on 16 June and the UK on 23 June.
Published 29 Mar 2023
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