‘Asteroid City’ brings us laughs from outer space


“Asteroid City” lands at the M.V. Film Center for two weeks on Friday, June 30. “You can’t wake up if you don’t fall asleep” is the theme of this wild and loony Wes Anderson film. To begin with, it’s chock full of well-known actors and actresses whose real-life identities viewers guess at.

The 1955 setting is the tiny — population 87 — desert town of Asteroid City, which acquired its name from an asteroid that landed there multiple years earlier. It has become the scene of the Junior Stargazer/Space Cadet convention, which is about to take place.

Farcically charming, the film opens in black-and-white with TV host Bryan Cranston introducing playwright Ed Norton as Conrad Earp, famous author of “Asteroid City,” typing on an otherwise empty stage. Cranston will continue throughout the film as emcee for its black-and-white sections.

Viewers will find themselves next arriving in Asteroid City, where everything appears in Anderson’s signature shades of super-real, cartoonlike pastels. As other characters step out of their roles periodically, Cranston shows up in the film’s color section.

Jason Schwartzman, playing war photographer Augie Steenbeck, arrives in his woody station wagon with his four children: teenager Woodrow (Jake Ryan); and triplet little girls Andromeda (Ella Faris), Pandora (Gracie Faris), and Cassiopeia (Willan Faris). After his car has broken down and is corralled in a garage for repairs, Augie calls his father-in-law, a cranky Stanley Zak (Tom Hanks), to pick up his grandchildren. For reasons unknown, Augie has delayed telling his children about the death of their mother, whose ashes reside in a ridiculous Tupperware container.

Augie next meets voluptuous TV actress Midge Campbell (Scarlett Johansson), and her teen daughter Dinah (Grace Edwards). Augie and Midge strike up a liaison, as do Dinah and Augie’s son Woodrow. Five-star general Grif Gibson (Jeffrey Wright) arrives to welcome the attendees, and scientist Dr. Hickenlooper (Tilda Swinton) addresses the convention on astronomical phenomena.

In the meantime, a UFO appears, and an alien (Jeff Goldblum) steals the soccer-size meteorite. Gen. Gibson places the town and convention under quarantine, until the alien event becomes national news. Convention members use Dr. Hickenlooper’s paraphernalia to fashion friendly messages to the UFO. The UFO arrives again, and the alien returns the stolen meteorite. When Gen. Gibson tries to reinstate the quarantine as a result, the town and convention members revolt.

In a return to the black-and-white play, author Earp finishes writing the script, and Schubert Green (Adrian Brody) is enlisted to direct its completion with help from acting teacher Saltzburg Keitel (Willem Dafoe).

In addition to its reliance on pastel colors, “Asteroid City” has other cinematic touches characteristic of Anderson’s work. Much of the film’s humor is delivered deadpan, and the film relies on long shots and symmetrically balanced images to frame the plot, as well as pristine costumes and an emphasis on close-ups of character’s faces. There is also an emphasis on the importance of children.

“Asteroid City” is best enjoyed for its humor and its absurd story line. After all, you can’t wake up if you don’t fall asleep.

Information and tickets for “Asteroid City” are available at mvfilmsociety.com