Mixed reviews for Asteroid City by Wes Anderson, a film for fans only?

10 June 2023

Asteroid City by Wes Andeson film still with Scarlett Johansson

Still from Asteroid City, directed by Wes Anderson.

Asteroid City, the latest feature by American filmmaker Wes Anderson, premiered in Australia at the Sydney Film Festival on the evening of Thursday 8 June 2023. While there was much excitement in the lead up to the release of Anderson’s eleventh film, reactions so far from viewers and critics who have seen Asteroid City, do not quite match the pre-release hype.

It’s early days though. The film is yet to commence its theatrical run, and to date has mostly been seen only at media preview screenings, and film festivals. It could be argued these viewers, generally made up of film critics and seasoned film-goers, are a little more particular than wider audiences.

Still, some of the early film ranking metrics are not exactly encouraging. Rotten Tomatoes, the go-to gauge of a movie’s likability, presently gives Asteroid City a score of seventy-five percent. Metascore meanwhile, which aggregates the scores movie writers assign to a film through Metacritic, rates Asteroid City at seventy-three out of one-hundred.

The film’s IMDb rating, based on scores by IMDb members, sits at just under seven out of ten. All of these numbers still make Asteroid City worth watching in my opinion.

But bloggers and influencers who have seen early screenings, are distinctly mixed in their appraisals. Swara Salih, writing for But Why Tho?, thought Asteroid City’s biggest problem was none other than Wes Anderson:

What gets in the way of Asteroid City’s success as a narrative was Anderson himself. The writer-director’s insistence on meta commentary results in what could have been one of his most ambitious and groundbreaking films that instead collapses into a narrative mess.

Ali Naderzad, a film writer at Screen Comment, was at odds with Anderson’s trademark saturated pastel pallet, which he suggested worked against the film:

“Asteroid City” is a visual feat of a movie with little in the way of substance, in fact, this might be the most contrived Wes Anderson film I’ve watched. Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Liev Schreiber and Adrien Brody star in it, which adds heft but the photography is helliciously rendered in saturated pastels and so it’s weird.

Zornitsa Staneva, a staff writer at Tilt Magazine, was critical of Anderson’s penchant for constantly featuring oversize ensemble casts:

Does Wes Anderson invoice based on the number of Hollywood names stuffed in his distended cast? Is Wes Anderson blinded by narcissism to the extent that all he cares about is having a foot long list of cast credits, held tenuously together by a pretentiously self-referential vanity project?

On the flip side, Ben Rolph, writing for AwardsWatch, described Asteroid City as more of the same from Anderson, which was a good thing, albeit a touch more melancholic than usual:

With an explosion of pastel colours, precise camera moves and a whimsical script, Asteroid City is Wes Anderson operating at his best, still doing his usual quirky thing. His latest is another testament to the ongoing power of his one-of-a-kind, special style of filmmaking which here develops to become more mature and melancholic as a family deals with some serious issues.

Finally, Michael Walsh, who was in attendance at the premiere screening at the Sydney Film Festival, was likewise upbeat:

Quirky, offbeat and existential, Asteroid City is yet another darling little feature from the whimsical Wes Anderson that unites a stacked cast, consummate craftwork, and a surprising story that elicits good laughs and deep questions about life, purpose and legacy to deliver one of Anderson’s more character driven and emotionally resonate films in recent memory.

Anderson has an unconventional style of storytelling, which is something to be thankful for. While not all of his titles have one-hundred percent agreed with me, so far there’s not been one I’ve disliked. Asteroid City remains a film I’m hanging out to see.


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