By Mark Fields

Wes Anderson’s films – which, in recent years, have included The French Dispatch, Isle of Dogs, and The Grand Budapest Hotel – are undoubtedly an acquired taste. His breaking of the fourth wall (actors talking directly to the camera/audience), the clipped and stilted dialogue, the sweeping tracking shots, the flat and brightly colored setting all create an artificial yet complete cinematic environment in which Anderson can explore idiosyncratic human behavior. Anderson’s films have an intentional hyper-stylization that individual filmgoers either embrace or find unnecessarily opaque, even off-putting. I enjoy them, usually. My partner does not.

His latest movie, Asteroid City, is perhaps his most Andersonesque to date. Ostensibly the story of a small desert city in the 1950s experiencing an unexpected visit from the stars, Asteroid City creates an opportunity to bring together his extensive repertory company of familiar actors – Jason Schwartzman, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Willem Dafoe – to do their offbeat best. But, the film features all of the signature stylistic conventions mentioned before, and adds on top of them a framing device of a black-and-white recreation of the play that is also the movie…meta, right?! This additional layer of artifice further underlines the director’s attempts to defy moviegoers’ expectations.

Although archly funny and often moving, Asteroid City ultimately struggles to make a coherent point through all the stylistic showmanship. Quirky can be fine, but we still want and need a compelling reason for watching.

Mark Fields
Mark Fields has reviewed movies for Out & About since October 2008. In addition, he has written O&A profiles of documentarian Harry Shearer and actress Aubrey Plaza. Over the years, Mark also has written on film for several publications in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and his home state of Indiana, where he also served as on-air movie critic for Indianapolis’s public radio station. Mark was an adjunct instructor of film history at Rowan University from 1998 to 2018. A career arts administrator, he retired in fall 2021 after 16 years as an executive at Wilmington’s Grand Opera House. Mark now leads bike tours part-time and is working on a screenplay. He lives in Trolley Square with his partner Wendy. Mark spent the fastest 22 minutes of his life as an unsuccessful contestant on Jeopardy…sadly, there were no movie questions.