“Asteroid City”: a community of broken hearts in search of meaning

Midge Campbell (Scarlett Johansson), in


A little over a year ago, with The French Dispatch (2021), the Texan dandy Wes Anderson paid homage to the American written press and dreamed of being the editor-in-chief of an abundant film, where the staging fulfilled a layout fantasy. Shot immediately after, marking an unprecedented acceleration in the filmmaker’s career, Asteroid City summons, meanwhile, the scenic tradition, and not just any tradition: the psychological theater of the post-war period, which swept through Hollywood with figures such as Joshua Logan (picnic, Bus stop), Elia Kazan (A streetcar named desire, On the docks) or Richard Brooks (The Cat on a Burning Roof).

Read the review: Article reserved for our subscribers In “The French Dispatch”, Wes Anderson has fun with the golden legend of journalism

This school, which introduced modern acting, therefore openly refers to a film that takes place on two levels: in a small locality invented for the needs of a play and behind the scenes of the production of the latter. The French Dispatch was a film about writing; Asteroid City will be one on the theater, tackling the question of the actor and the incarnation.

The scene is set in 1955, in the desert of the American West. Asteroid City is a small town pushed near a crater dug by the fall of a meteorite, since transformed into a tourist site. Around the rectilinear road which crosses the place, one counts a dinner flanked by a garage, a lot of bungalows, an unfinished freeway access ramp and, in the distance, a few sporadic nuclear test mushrooms.

Diffuse melancholy

Every year, students across the country flock by bus to take part in a science invention competition. Augie Steenbeck (Jason Schwartzman), war photojournalist, arrives there with his son, Woodrow (Jake Ryan), a little inventor known as “Brainiac” (“the brain”), and his three little girls, barely recovered from the death of their mother. There he meets Midge Campbell (Scarlett Johansson), a recently divorced Hollywood star, who occupies the neighboring bungalow. During the ceremony, an alien descended from a saucer unexpectedly invites himself to steal the asteroid. What is worth to all these small world, as of the following day, to be immobilized by the army, which locks the site on the spot.

To the mad agitation of The French Dispatch this is followed by this horizontal theater of waiting and immobility, where everything functions as in a reduced model. In this bare and almost absurd plain, Wes Anderson brings together a small community of broken hearts (and one of those colossal casts of which the filmmaker has the secret: Tom Hanks, Tilda Swinton, Willem Dafoe, Margot Robbie, Matt Dillon, etc. ), bereaved beings who are all missing something or someone. The story in shimmering colors is streaked with “meta” inserts in black and white, where we follow the stages of production of the show. The author (Edward Norton) and the director (Adrien Brody) sometimes admit that the meaning of the play escapes them. Is that’Asteroid City resists the temptation of the fable, to which he prefers a Pirandellian vertigo: a myriad of characters in search of meaning, lost somewhere between stage and backstage, suspended in the mise en abyme.

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