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Scarlett Johansson in Wes Anderson Bagatelle – The Hollywood Reporter

Scarlett Johansson in Wes Anderson Bagatelle – The Hollywood Reporter


With apologies to Guns N’ Roses: Don’t take me to the city ​​of asteroids / Where the tropes are tired and the gags ain’t witty / Make it stop

To clarify an important point upfront, I don’t hate Wes Anderson. I understand that he is the most parodiable of contemporary American directors, with his fondness for carefully crafted retro-theatrical artifices, for boxes within narrative boxes, for choices of framing and camera movement identifiable from a mile away , the characters that drip with humor and the plots that dive fearlessly into Mannerist preciousness. But when all the elements click in place, Anderson’s neat worlds can be enchanting places to visit. Or they can be suffocating constructs that squeeze all the charm out of its signature storytelling style. Which brings us to city ​​of asteroids.

city ​​of asteroids

The essential

Exuberant and exasperating uneven parts.

Place: Cannes Film Festival (Competition)
Release date: Friday, June 23
Discard: Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Jeffrey Wright, Tilda Swinton, Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, Liev Schreiber, Hope Davis, Stephen Park, Rupert Friend, Maya Hawke, Steve Carell, Matt Dillon, Hong Chau, Willem Dafoe, Margot Robbie
Director-screenwriter:Wes Anderson

Rated PG-13, 1 hour 44 minutes

Previewing in main competition at Cannes ahead of its June 23 release via Focus, the extremely cute new film joins the ranks of Anderson’s more distanced work, including The Darjeeling Limited And Aquatic Life With Steve Zissou.

The writer-director rarely seems happier with himself than when he’s going in circles. Anderson has always been like a smart kid playing in a tightly sealed sandbox of quirky action figures and quaint toys. Here it is literally as he strands a group of people in 1955 in a fictional small desert town in the American Southwest with a population of 87, isolating them there after an alien encounter prompts the government to intervene and impose a military quarantine. .

At the center of all the excitement is a group of young, precociously bright teenagers accompanied by their parents to a Junior Stargazers convention, where they will be honored for their wacky scientific inventions in a ceremony held in the basin of a huge crater of meteorite.

Add in Tilda Swinton as the quirky astronomer giving an annual scholarship to a lucky space cadet, and what’s more Anderson-esque, right? In theory yes, but it’s hard to engage with characters and situations that seem so studied, so stuck in a script that rarely allows them emotional development – especially when the director himself seems so distant from them.

The main exceptions are Augie Steinbeck (Jason Schwartzman), a recently widowed war photographer, and Midge Campbell (Scarlett Johansson), a movie star who has a history with violent men. In exchanges carefully framed by the windows facing each other of their Motor Court Motel bungalows, a fleeting but intense romantic connection develops. At the same time, young loves are born between their respective children, Woodrow (Jake Ryan) and Dinah (Grace Edwards).

Schwartzman and Johansson star in the film, bringing an element of poignant longing and subsumed pain to their characters. But every time their thread threatens to gain substance, Anderson cuts to an unnecessary vignette or wayward affair that makes the entire crowded cast of characters seem distant.

A big part of that is the overly complicated framing device, a black and white Maisonette 90-type television show hosted by an anonymous host (Bryan Cranston), which features city ​​of asteroids like a play by Conrad Earp (Edward Norton), directed by Schubert Green (Adrien Brody) and performed with an ensemble drawn from the Saltzburg drama collective Keitel (Willem Dafoe). The program is a behind-the-scenes tour of the creative process of putting together a play, and the key characters involved are all inspired by mid-century artists and institutions, like the Actors Studio.

This means that we also get mostly unrevealing glimpses of the performers playing roles in the desert game show in the TV program. And it allows production designer Adam Stockhausen to get creative with painted backdrops of cacti-strewn apartments and presumably styrofoam rocky mesas and mountains. But this supposedly exuberant comedy with heart exposes the gap between smart and fun.

Despite a deep period selection of twangy country tunes and upbeat skiffle songs about train journeys – an old-fashioned railroad runs through town, along with intermittent police cars chasing random criminals – the film mostly just sits there, never really accumulating much life.

The point of the story – scripted by Anderson from an idea he developed with Roman Coppola – is that human connection, enlightenment and healing are possible even in a climate of deep-rooted paranoia and mushroom-shaped shadow of the atomic tests. But the poignant notes have trouble breaking through.

city ​​of asteroids made me regret the beautiful sadness that afflicts the messed up family of The Royal Tenenbaumsteenage growing pains Rushmorenostalgia for the adventurous spirit of childhood in Moonrise Kingdom or the bewitching tragicomedy of The Grand Budapest Hotel, a film so layered that it almost defies a single viewing. Anderson’s latest releases sometimes seem indistinguishable from the fan edits and AI-generated parodies of his work that have been sprouting up all over TikTok and Twitter.

Among the most underutilized performers is Hong Chau, who only performed one scene as the woman stepped out on Brody’s serial womanizer, not without regret; and Margot Robbie as a melancholic actress whose scene as Augie’s deceased wife was cut from the play. She has a melancholy exchange with Jones Hall, the actor playing Augie, from the balconies of the nearby Broadway theater. Beyond an alleged fondness for the director’s work, it’s mystifying what attracted Tom Hanks to the disposable role of Augie’s disapproving stepfather, negotiating a continued place in his grandchildren’s lives while remaining open about his dislike of their father.

Few people stuck for the duration in Asteroid City, the place, have much to do. This includes stargazer parents played by Liev Schreiber, Hope Davis and Stephen Park; Steve Carell as the motel manager peddling mini plots of real estate in the desert; Maya Hawke as a dedicated schoolteacher overseeing a busload of children; Rupert Friend as the troubadour cowboy who sweetly romances her; Matt Dillon as the local auto mechanic; and Jeffrey Wright as a decorated general hosting the astronomers’ convention and later overseeing the military lockdown when one of the young masterminds runs a school newspaper scoop on the alien visitation.

This latest development involves Jeff Goldblum inhabiting the movement of a spindly, stop-motion alien, perhaps intended to suggest the limitless possibilities of a universe too often viewed with fear. But the presence, while amusing, isn’t much more significant than Goldblum’s interplanetary visitor. Earth girls are easy.

As always with Anderson, the craft elements are impeccable, including Stockhausen’s playful faux sets, Milena Canonero’s geek-chic vintage costumes and Robert Yeoman’s cinematography, drenched in the dazzling colors of Kodak 35mm film and brought to life. by many characteristic whips, clever symmetrical framing and split-screen interludes. It must also be said that each actor is 100% committed to the director’s vision, like wacky figurines in a world of miniature toys.

The problem is that there just isn’t enough here to fully engage the viewer beyond the brand’s aesthetic – no emotional pull or lingering feeling and too few genuine laughs. For a film so oddly weightless, it seems awfully self-satisfied, its moments of magic evaporating almost instantly.




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