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Review: ‘Asteroid City’ is peak Wes Anderson weirdness

Scarlett Johansson in a scene from Wes Anderson’s “Asteroid City.”

Asteroid City

Starring Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Jeffrey Wright, Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Steven Carell, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton and Margot Robbie. Written by Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola. Directed by Wes Anderson. Reviewed at the Cannes Film Festival; opens in Toronto theatres June 23. 104 minutes.STC

Wes Anderson finally achieves peak weirdness with “Asteroid City,” premiering in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, in which a visiting space alien seems right at home with the even stranger humans making this close encounter.

This is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a very good thing for fans of the filmmaker, who adore Anderson’s idiosyncratic storytelling, quirky casting and obsessive production design.

But this movie is probably not the right on-ramp for people not already steeped in the clockwork insanity of Anderson’s cinematic expressions, which includes “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “The French Dispatch.”

The film is packed with so many ideas and cast members old and new — Tom Hanks joins such Anderson regulars as Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Jeffrey Wright and Steve Carell — it’s difficult to keep track of where they are, what they’re doing, and what’s supposed to be real and what’s not. There is much talk about time and the meaning of life.

“Asteroid City” is presented as a stage play within a movie, written by a character played by Edward Norton and narrated by a character played by Bryan Cranston. (At one point, Cranston accidentally walks onto the “Asteroid City” movie set. Even the movie’s characters are confused by it.)

The story is set in September 1955, during a junior stargazers event held annually in the desert town of the title, named for where an asteroid strike left a giant crater 5,000 years ago.

ASTEROID CITY takes place in a fictional American desert town circa 1955. Synopsis: The itinerary of a Junior Stargazer/Space Cadet convention (organized to bring together students and parents from across the country for fellowship and scholarly competition) is spectacularly disrupted by world-changing events.

The era on view, presented in what looks like faded Kodachrome colour, celebrates American exceptionalism — the Space Age is dawning — while at the same time fretting about nuclear war, the “Red Menace” of Communism and the possible existence of UFOs.

The latter concern comes true when a UFO lands and a lanky stick figure comes out to retrieve the crater-causing asteroid. The alien just wants his rock back, but he strangely looks like he’s from a Tim Burton movie, not a Wes Anderson one. I told you it gets confusing.


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