by Rob DiCristino
The best Wes Anderson stories are nearly always defined by their dramatic artifice, the knowledge — insistence, even — that they are fictional tales populated by characters dreamed-up by a taciturn auteur. His signature dollhouse Americana reads better this way, of course; that tinge of hazy romantic nostalgia for a mid-century that never existed is easier to embrace when it’s excavated from the depths of dusty hardbacks, as in The Royal Tenenbaums or The Grand Budapest Hotel, or presented in an animated un-reality like Fantastic Mr. Fox or Isle of Dogs. Rather than being dropped in medias res into an ongoing serial narrative — think the complex scatter plot of storylines that make up the Marvel Cinematic Universe — his fables invite us to look wistfully at artifacts crafted from the past. We come to realize that he and his stable of co-writers (here frequent partner Roman Coppola) aren’t exploring the “what” as much as the “why,” interrogating the essences of the wayward players who make up his world.
This framing device feels at first like an unnecessary intrusion into the main storyline, which begins when Hall’s Augie Steenbeck —a war photographer and recent widower — arrives in Asteroid City with son Woodrow and three daughters. Though ostensibly a chance to celebrate Woodrow’s achievements, this stop is also an opportunity for Augie to further delay revealing his wife’s death to the children, as well as his intention to drop them at the door of their maternal grandfather, Stanley Zak (Tom Hanks). After being chastised by Zak — who promptly makes his way to Asteroid City to intercede — Augie becomes enamored with Midge Campbell (Ford — well, Johansson and Ford), a Hollywood star growing disillusioned with her fame. When the aforementioned close encounter leads to a government quarantine, Augie and Midge explore their shared grief while the mechanics (Matt Dillon), schoolteachers (Maya Hawke), and motel managers (Steve Carell) of Asteroid City adjust to their new — and possibly permanent — reality.
Asteroid City hits theaters on Friday, June 23rd.