Review Roundup: Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City

Critics react to Wes Anderson’s latest, in which an ensemble cast attend a desert astronomy convention.
Asteroid City - Wes Anderson

Since debuting in 1996 with Bottle Rocket, Wes Anderson has developed one of the most consistent and recognizable aesthetics in modern cinema — so it should come as no surprise that Asteroid City is immediately identifiable as a Wes Anderson film. His latest has a bit of a sci-fi twist, though, as people from across the country gather in a small desert town for an astronomy convention. But of course, there’s more going on than that simple description suggests.

Asteroid City had its premiere at the 76th Cannes Film Festival, where it received a six-minute standing ovation thanks to the performances of its ensemble cast, which includes Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Jeffrey Wright, Tilda Swinton, Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, and Steve Carell (to name a few).

So does Asteroid City live up to its Cannes reception? Or is it too Wes Anderson-esque for its own good? Read on for a sampling of reviews to see what critics are saying.

Siddhant Adlakha, One of his most self-reflexive works”

Much like in Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, which told a Holocaust story through several layers of stories and memories, Asteroid City is a saga of existential anxieties filtered through enamoring vistas that feel composed of miniatures and painted flats. The film’s numerous parental characters struggle to explain (to their children) and grapple (themselves) with the finite nature of life, which seems all the more minuscule when contrasted with the increasingly infinite nature of the universe. In effect, the movie’s numerous layers involve not just the desperate search for answers through science and religion, but the search for the search itself — the struggles to even put into words, or dramatic scenarios, the full weight of what’s being asked when a child wonders what happens when we die.

Charles Bramesco, Antic yet quietly melancholy”

Anderson’s latest draws its tender potency from the grasping for understanding and the yearning to be understood in an uncharacteristic personal statement from one of the present’s most intently misread auteurs. Around the margins of the humor more “ha-ha” funny than his usual drollery (how he tracked down three little girls with Swiss-watch comic timing beggars belief), his figures of unspoken hurt struggle to comprehend art, God, other people, themselves.

David Ehrlich, One of his very best movies yet”

If all of Anderson’s movies are sustained by the tension between order and chaos, uncertainty and doubt, Asteroid City is the first that takes that tension as its subject, often expressing it through the friction created by rubbing together its various levels of non-reality. Some might see that as self-amused navel-gazing, but the unexpected moment towards the end when Anderson finds a certain equilibrium between those contradictory forces — with a major assist from a movie star whose name you suddenly remember seeing in the credits some 100 minutes earlier — is so crushingly beautiful and well-earned that the artifice surrounding it simply falls away.

Isaac Feldberg, Maybe his most complicated film yet”

Anderson’s films are just as distinctive in their emotional thrust. The characters are fantastical, but their draw toward escapism and adventure is deeply felt, and it comes with a strong sense of whimsical wonder. His exotic locales make his stories seem like familiar, distant dreams. Nostalgia is at the heart of Asteroid City just as much as it’s been in his past films, even though the imaginative design is so much more fanciful than actual history.

Owen Gleiberman, Visually dazzling and dramatically inert”

If the setting of Asteroid City feels succulent in that vintage Anderson way, the scenes and events that unfold there do not. They add up to what may be the filmmaker’s most hyperactive yet coyly obtuse piece of storytelling. There are only a few main characters, but everyone in the movie seems to be reciting from the same turgidly empty-clever Anderson playbook.

Rodrigo Perez, Mostly pleasant, entertaining, and even occasionally enchanting”

There’s a lot going on in Anderson’s 11th film, arguably too much — even for him. Set in the mid-1950s at a Junior Stargazer convention held in a fictional American desert town (the eponymous “Asteroid City,” think New Mexico meets Nevada), where parents and students all converge for this special annual gathering (so it’s a Santa Fe aesthetic with pastels). The town’s most celebrated attraction is a nearby giant meteoric crater and celestial observatory. Given the multitude of peculiar characters, their various personal dramas and sorrows, and Anderson’s penchant for chock-a-block schematized dialogue, knotty information dumps, and visual density, this would be more than enough for a bountiful Wes Anderson movie.

Steve Pond, “[Buried] under fancy piles of eccentricity”

It takes place in a galaxy far, far away, to be sure, but that galaxy is on Earth. It’s only far, far away from any recognizable human behavior because it’s in Wes-world: a small town populated with nothing but eccentrics in interesting clothing with speech patterns that only marginally resemble actual human communication.

David Rooney, Gets marooned in cloying Wes Anderson whimsy”

Asteroid City made me long for the beautiful sadness afflicting the messed-up family in The Royal Tenenbaums, the adolescent growing pains of Rushmore, the nostalgia for the adventurous spirit of childhood in Moonrise Kingdom or the haunting tragicomedy of The Grand Budapest Hotel, a movie so layered it almost defies a single viewing. Anderson’s latest at times seems indistinguishable from the fan edits and AI-generated parodies of his work that have been sprouting all over TikTok and Twitter.

Stephanie Zacharek, Too stiff and stylized”

Even as Anderson purports to delight his audiences, he always holds them at arm’s length. He’s not the warmest of filmmakers; there’s an inherent exclusivity in his style. Many of his fans don’t seem to mind that, and probably even like it — he can make you feel like part of a secret club. But Asteroid City, as extravagant and hermetic as one of King Ludwig’s crazy castles, is more excessively mannered than any other Wes Anderson picture.

Esther Zuckerman, Brilliant”

Asteroid City has all of the ticks that make Anderson Anderson: The slow pans, the deliberate framing, the erudite dialogue, and a narrator to boot. It’s also his best film since 2014’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, a thoroughly hilarious piece that coalesces into something almost haunting. Asteroid City is thick with Americana, but the charming hootenanny of it all works in tandem with the deep questions the director is asking.

Asteroid City arrives in theaters on June 23, 2023. Watch the trailer below.

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