Wes Anderson

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7.0 Bottle Rocket (1996)
6.5 Rushmore (1998)
7.1 The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
7.0 The Life Aquatic (2004)
6.7 The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
6.8 Fantastic Mr Fox (2009)
7.1 Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
7.0 The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
7.0 Isle Of Dogs (2018)
6.5 The French Dispatch (2021)
7.0 Asteroid City (2023)

Wes Anderson (USA, 1969) debuted with the caper movie Bottle Rocket (1996).

Rushmore (1998) is a mildly entertaining comedy with a soundtrack of rock songs that evoke the age of the Who and the Kinks and a love story that for a while is reminiscent of The Graduate and then becomes a bit tedious as it drifts towards the inevitable happy ending.

A teenager, Max, dreams of being a math genius. In reality, he has fallen asleep in the church where a tycoon, Herman, is giving an inspirational talk to the students of a prestigious private school. Everybody is bored and only Max, who actually missed most of his talk, claps. The headmaster coldly informs Herman that Max is one of the worst students in the school. It turns out that he used to be a child prodigy but got distracted by too many extracurriculum activities, from theater to dodgeball. Now the headmaster threatens to expel him altogether from school. Max is secretely in love with an English teachers, Rosemary, an elegant widow only twice his age, and tries to win her heart by befriending one of her little son Dirk. Meanwhile, Herman is the father of two arrogant boys at the same school. They think Max is an obnoxious nerd and don't invite him to their parties. Somehow Herman likes Max's chaotic mind and offers him a job. Instead Max proposes another pointless scheme, the construction of an aquarium on the school's baseball field, something that will certainly please the aquarium-loving teacher Rosemary. Herman accepts to fund the project. Rosemary eventually realizes that he is in love with her and confronts him. Far from being ashamed or embarrassed, Max admits manly his feelings. Max gets a standing ovation for a theatrical play that he wrote and produces. But Rosemary ruins his day by showing up with an old friend, Peter. Max introduces her to Herman, who is there to congratulate him. They all go to dinner and Max, a little drunk, humiliates repeatedly Peter, who is wearing scrubs. Rosemary is offended and Max, clearly jealous, makes a scene. Later Herman meets Rosemary to apologize on behalf of Max. Max stubbornly begans work on the aquarium, but he has no permit to do so. This time the headmaster expels him for real. Max has to transfer to a public school. An obnoxious Scottish boy, Magnus, makes fun of him, and Max tells him that he was expelled for getting a handjob from Rosemary. Meanwhile, Max has found an admirer, a nice student of his public school, Margaret, but Max hardly notices her. Max makes peace with Rosemary, promising to behave. It turns out that Herman has fallen in love with Rosemary. He is obviously disappointed with his own family: two obnoxious kids and a wife he doesn't love anymore. Rosemary welcomes his attentions. But Max's little friend Dirk finds out about their dates and accuses Herman of cheating on both his wife and Max, and (since he is a married man) also with his mother Rosemary, and then Dirk informs Max. The Scottish kid has told him about Max's claim that Rosemary gave him a handjob and Dirk claims to have seen Herman and Rosemary giving each other handjobs. Max spies on them and makes a scene to both. Then he calls Herman's wife and tells her that Herman has an affair. Max trespasses into Herman's mansion and this time he is arrested. Attacked by the children themselves, Max denies ever saying that he got a handjob from Dirk's mother. Max now tries to have Rosemary fired but only to learn that she already resigned. He looks for her, finds her and tries to kiss her; but she repels him. Herman finds Max in a cemetery and tries to make peace, but Max walks away. Time goes by and Max, having left school, becomes a barber at for his father's shop. The sweet Margaret tracks him down and brings him flowers, but he still ignores her. The headmaster has a stroke and Max visits him at the hospital. The old man has been unconscious and paralyzed for ten days but just hearing the voice of the hated student brings him back to life. Max and Herman meet at the hospital. Herman is a mess: Rosemary has left him, and he thinks she's still in love with her dead husband. Max uses a ladder to climb to Rosemary's window, pretending to be injured, and gets Rosemary's version of the break-up. She is bitter about Herman being a failure as a human being. But she easily finds out that Max's wound is fake, and she kicks him out telling him that he and Herman deserve each other. At last Max apologizes to Dirk for spreading the lie about the handjob. Margaret is still chasing him and he finally pays attention to her, an aspiring scientist who failed her widely advertised project. Max decides to make peace with an ever unhappier Herman, and, surprisingly, decides to rescue him existentially and help Herman reconquer Rosemary. Max comes up with another scheme, a marine observatory, with the unstated goal of impressing Rosemary. Herman plunges into it with all his energy (and money). Max invites Rosemary but she doesn't show up at the opening ceremony. Herman is devastated. Max doesn't give up. He writes and produces a new play, inviting even his sworn enemy Magnus, and finding a role for Margaret too. At the opening Max makes sure that Herman and Rosemary sit next to each other. The play is an elaborate Vietnam-war reenactment with bazookas, jungle and miniature bomber planes. The play is a great success. At the party after the show Max meets Margaret's parents and now Max and Margaret are officially together. Herman and Rosemary are hanging out like good old friends. The last dance, however, is for Max and Rosemary: perhaps Max has finally made inroads into her heart, or she is just proud that he has finally become a good person.

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) is an existential comedy that is rarely funny, lightweight intellectual entertainment enhanced with an eccentric and elegant visual style.

The narrator introduces Royal Tenenbaum and his three children, each a prodigy in a different field. Royal is being abandoned by his wife (their mother) and the children are wondering if it is their fault. Chas is a genius of real estate and international finance. Margot (an adopted child) is already an award-winning playwright. Richie is a tennis champion. Then the film fast forwards 22 years. Royal, who has never accepted the divorce, lives alone in a hotel's luxury room but is being evicted because he is penniless. His family has cut all ties with him. Richie has not played since a scandal and is cruising around the world, still in love with his adopted sister Margot; but Margot, who has not staged a play in years and spends most of her life in the bathroom smoking and watching television, is married to a neurologist, Raleigh, who is manically fascinated by a child, Dudley, because he seems to have all sorts of mental problems. Chas is a widower with two sons, Ari and Uzi, obsessed about their safety after their mother died in a plane crash that they survived. Out of the blue Royal's wife Etheline gets a marriage proposal from the accountant, Henry, who has worked for years for her. Etheline convinces her daughter Margot to leave Raleigh and move back home, not knowing that Margot is having an affair with Richie's best friend Eli, who is a tv celebrity. When the news of the wedding reaches Royal, he figures out a way to stop the wedding: he stalks Etheline in the street and pretends he is dying of cancer. His last wish is to spend a month with her and his children. Etheline immediately summons the children home. Henry is a kind, old-fashioned gentleman. Etheline, an archeologist, admits to him that she hasn't had sex in 18 years. They tenderly love each other, but Royal's tactic works: the wedding cannot happen while he is dying.
Eli tells Margot that Richie is in love with her. Royal is still puzzled about what caused Richie to suddenly collapse as a tennis player during one specific game, but the explanation is very simple: the game took place the day after Margot married Raleigh. When he returns from his cruise, Margot confronts Richie about his secret love for her but doesn't confess that she's having an affair with his best friend.
Chas is hostile to Royal meeting his grandchildren (whom he has never met). Chas never forgave his father for stealing money form him. Nonetheless Royal manages to get the children to like him.
When Royal gets officially evicted from the hotel, he has already assembled enough sympathy from Richie and Etheline that he gets invited to move in with the family, despite Chas' loud protestations. It helps that Royal also brings medical equipment and that he feigns an attack, all corroborated by his trusted friend Pagoda. The doctor prescribes absolute rest. Richie sleeps in a tent in the living room and lends his room to his dad.
Raleigh is desperate. He senses that she is having an affair. Of all people Raleigh asks Richie for advice, and Richie, being in love with Margot himself, is obviously disturbed by the news. Royal has figured it out too, and is not pleased with Margot.
Despite Chas' open hostility, Royal manages to spend a day with his grandchildren. It is the craziest day in their lives because Royal takes them to do all sorts of reckless and illegal things. Back home Royal has to face a furious Chas. Royal calmly tells him the truth: that he (Chas) has never recovered from the death of his wife and is living in a permanent nervous breakdown.
Henry finds out that it is all a scam and the family is disgusted by Royal's trick. Chas is all too happy to kick him out of the house. Royal and his trusted Pagoda move into an old dilapidated building but they are absolutely broke.
Eli, who is constantly on drugs, decides to break up with Margot. Raleigh and Richie hire a private investigator to spy on her. Richie and Raleigh have hired a the private eye to spy on Margot and find out about her troubled and promiscuous past. Raleigh is shocked but takes it calmly. Richie, instead, is devastated and tries to commit suicide. At the hospital a tense but still calm Raleigh confronts Margot in front of Etheline, who finally learns the truth about her daughter's neurotic life.
Royal has found employment as an elevator operator at the very hotel where he used to stay and from which he was evicted (Pagoda too). When the news reaches him of RIchie's attempted suicide, he leaves his post and rushes to the hospital. Royal arrives just in time to see Richie, who has escape still dressed in hospital clothes, walk like a zombie into a bus. Richie heads home and finds Margot in his tent. Margot finally accepts his love. After sleeping with her, Richie visits his father at the hotel and tells him the truth. Royal is shocked but then resigns himself to the idea that brother and (adopted) sister love each other. They visit Eli together, where Richie confronts him (Margot told him about the affair with Eli). Eli runs away.
Royal surprises Etheline and Henry with the divorce papers. Suddenly, he has become a nice man and just wants everybody to be happy. He gets invited to the wedding and is hanging out in the street with Chas' children when a stoned Eli drives at high speed towards the house and crashes into it. Royal saves the children and gets reconciled with Chas. In fact, he dies years later of a heart attack with Chas at his side, having successfully rescued his family from a dysfunctional apathy.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) has a meandering plot with many cartoonish scenes and it is mostly set inside a labirynthine multi-story ship (similar to the boarding house in Jerry Lewis' The Ladies' Man). The real attraction is the protagonist, a cross between Jules Verne's Captain Nemo, Herman Melville's Captain Ahab and Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones but turned into a lonely, melancholy, nostalgic old man who is searching for the meaning of life and just cannot find it: not revenge against a beast that is actually beautiful in his ferocity, not the love for a woman who is pregnant of someone else and who prefers a younger man, and not his son who is not his. And so he spends his life turning tragedies into films, and thus financing the next tragedy that will be the next film. It is obviously also film about making a film: throughout the film the protagonist instructs the cameraman when to shoot and when to cut. The film is false because he decides what the film will show of his life. But at the same time the reporter is writing an article that is a faithful description of his life. By the end, the protagonist has become indifferent to the success of the film and is accepted the humbling reality of the article. The film has a madcap pace and sardonic overtones (the topless script girl) reminiscent of Polansky and Blake Edwards.

At the Italian premiere of the new documentary by a world-famous oceanographer, Steve Zissou, the audience can see the footage of when Steve and his best friend Esteban dived into the ocean and Esteban was lost. Steve remembers a giant shark that ate Esteban. Asked by a kid in the audience what is next, Steve replies that he wants to make a follow-up documentary about his hunt for the killer shark. During the reception that follows the premiere we are introduced to Steve's investors and his crew: his wealthy ex-wife Eleanor, who is advertised as the "brain" behind his expeditions but in fact is simply the main investor, his loyal Klaus, the cameraman Vikram, and so on. His arch-rival Alistair wants a photo with him. Steve is jealous that Alistair gets more funding than him. Alistair also happens to be Eleanor's previous husband. Steve is annoyed that his agent cannot find enough money to fund his next expedition to hunt the shark. The kid who asked the final question introduces himself as... his son. Ned is the son of Steve's old lover whom Steve has not seen in 30 years, but Steve knew of this boy born after their relationship ended. The woman just committed suicide after a long battle with cancer. Steve loses his temper twice: when a journalist asks him whom he is going to kill next in his expeditions, and when he overhears Italians gossiping about his mental decline. Steve invites Ned to join him on Pescespada Island, owned by Eleanor's parents. At night Steve wakes up everybody to document a natural phenomenon: fluorescent jellyfish stranded by the tide. Just then a pregnant woman appears on the beach: she's a reporter whom they forgot to pick up at the airport. When she starts interviewing him with rude questions, he fires back and makes her cry. Meanwhile, Klaus is jealous of Ned, whom Steve is treating like a real son when in fact this was never proven: Steve learned of the insinuation in a newspaper. Steve's agent calls that he failed to secure the funding for his expedition, but Ned offers to co-fund it with his inheritance. The bank that funds the rest dispatches an agent, Bill, to make sure that they will not overspend and will comply with the law. In particular, Steve is required not to kill the shark. The crew watch their old documentaries and are nostalgic of when their documentaries were hits. The ship takes off with Jane on board but without Eleanor that decides not to participate this time after Steve hires Ned to join the film crew. Jane tells Steve that the father of her baby is a married man. Steve needs sophisticated equipment for his mission and doesn't hesitate to steal it from a sea laboratory that belongs to his arch-enemy Alistair, despite Bill's protests. They locate the shark and head in that direction but that involves entering unprotected waters, while Alistair is informed of the theft and sets out to chase the thiefs, not knowing that the thief is Steve. Meanwhile, Steve is falling in love with Jane but Jane is falling in love with his "son" Ned. In fact, Ned is making love with Jane when he is supposed to be keeping watch and so pirates can easily board the ship. They first take Ned as hostage but then prefer Bill, who speaks their language. They take Ned's money too. Steve frees himself and attacks them alone with his gun, killing one. The others flee with the money and Bill. Half of Steve's crew mutinies thinking that this is a suicidal and illegal mission. Steve's ship issued a distress signal and is rescued by Alistair's ship. Steve lets Alistair think that the pirates are the ones that stole his equipment. Alistair demands that Steve pays for the rescue mission. Steve is now completely broke. He sails to Eleanor's island and asks her for money but she refuses. While they are stranded there, Steve catches Ned and Jane in bed together. Eleanor's parents eventually accept to pay for the mission and Eleanor guesses that the pirates are probably using the abandoned hotel in a nearby island. Steve and his remaining crew head to the island on board a submarine and enter the ruined hotel. They free Bill and Steve even accidentally frees Alistair, who has been captured by the pirates. Then they blow up the hotel with dynamite and return to the ship: Eleanor, Alistair, Steve, Ned, Bill and the remaining crew led by Klaus. They resume the search for the giant shark. Eleanor gossips with Jane about Steve, who cannot have children (hence Ned cannot be his son). Steve and Ned take a helicopter to search from the sky, but the helicopter crashes in the water: Steve survives but his "son" Ned dies and is buried at sea. Jane has completed her article on Steve and Steve doesn't like it but he must admit that the article is an accurate description of himself. They locate the shark and continue the hunt. This time they all board the submarine (Eleanor, Alistairs, Bill and the crew), piloted by Steve. They finally find the monster that looks indeed terrifying. Steve cannot kill it because he ran out of dynamite. They return to land and the film crew completes the documentary. The premiere takes place again in Italy, but Steve sits alone outside. He hears the clapping, signifying that the documentary is a hit, and then the journalists flock outside to take pictures of him. He loads a child who is a fan of his on his shoulders and walks away.

The Darjeeling Limited (2007) is a whimsical existential parable.

The action is set in India. A suit-and-tie businessman misses his train despite running after it at the train station, while the faster Peter makes it just in time. Peter meets his brothers Francis and Jack on board. The reunion has been organized by Francis, who wears a bandage around his forehead following a motorcycle accident. They have not seen each other since their father's death one year earlier. Francis wants them to have a spiritual experience on this train, named "The Darjeeling Limited", which will cross the whole of India. Their spiritual itinerary has been designed by Francis' assistant Brendan, who travels in another car of the train. Francis confiscates his brothers' passports to make sure they won't run away. Jack has sex with the train's sexy stewardess Rita. He has just broken up with his girlfriend but still knows how to check the messages on her answering machine and does so at every opportunity. Peter buys a cobra. Peter tells them that his wife is pregnant Francis confesses the true purpose of the trip: they are headed for the convent in the Himalayas where their mother has become a nun. One day the train gets lost in the desert. The cobra escapes. After a fight among them, the conductor expels them from the train with all their luggage. Mother sent them a telegram that she cannot see them. The trio tries to save children who are drowning in a river but one of the children dies. The surviving children take them to the village. During the funeral of the dead child we see a flashback to the funeral of their father (who died in a car accident), a funeral not attended by their mother. The whole village sees them off to the bus stop. They go straight to the airport. Peter phones his pregnant wife who is going to have a boy. He didn't tell her that he was going on a trip. At the last minute before boarding the trio tears up the tickets and decides to visit mother. They ride a motorcycle in three, followed by a tuktuk with all the luggage. They reach the convent. Francis admits that his motorcycle accident was a suicide attempt. We see the train moving and each car has one of the characters they interacted with, including the pregnant wife and the businessman who missed the train. Mother disappears. They rush to the station and the train just left. They run after it discarding all the luggage and jump on the last platform just in time. Francis now returns the passports but the other two don't want them.

Fantastic Mr Fox (2009) is a stop-motion animation movie that is an adaptation of Roald Dahl's children's novel (1970).

Moonrise Kingdom (2012) is a surreal comedy, sometimes sardonic like a cartoon, sometimes innocent like a fairy-tale. Its main appeal is not the humor, however: it's the stylized visual dimension, an endless series of tableaux, some lyrical, some transcendent, some comical.

It is 1965. A family's mansion and a boyscout camp are located on a sparsely populated island. The family consists of the parents, namely lawyers Walt and Laura, their three boys and their daughter, 12-year-old Suzy, whose main hobby is to stare into her binoculars. The boyscout camp is run by a scout master who tries to enforce discipline among his boys. The narrator, an old man, tells us that a big storm is forecast for the next few days. One morning the scout master discovers that one of the children, Sam, whom nobody likes, has escaped. The sheriff, informed, contacts his parents, but they are just foster parents and they don't want the child anymore: too much trouble. The sheriff and the scout master begin the search and rescue mission. Suzy, staring in the binoculars from a window of her house, spots Sam, who has learned a lot from the scout camp and is well equipped for a trek. A flashback shows us how they met at a costume performance of the school (Benjamin Britten's opera "Noye's Fludde"). They fell in love, they started exchanging letters, they decided to elope together. The girl runs out with a suitcase and a cat and meets Sam in a field. The parents finally find out that the girl is missing and alert the sheriff, and the father candidly admits that nobody likes Suzy so she has no friends. Sam and Suzy trek through rivers and woods. Suzy's mother finds the letters and realizes that she elopes with the missing boyscout. Meanwhile, we see that she and the sheriff are having an affair, something that Suzy already knew because she saw them with the binoculars. The other boyscouts are the first ones to reach the fugitives. Sam refuses to surrender and, attacked, injures the most vicious of the kids, Redford. Sam and Suzy keeps moving and reach a romantic cove, where they camp. The parents are arguing with the sheriff and the scout master when the old narrating man appears and tells them that he knows where the children are going: he told Sam about a historical trek and Sam always wanted to do it. Sam and Suzy kiss and he paints her nude. The adults finally find the two kids. She is defiant but is taken back home. He is informed that his foster parents don't want him back and will therefore be assigned to social services. The sheriff, however, is horrified when he speaks with the social services woman, who plans to place Sam in an orphanage and possibly administer an electroshock because the kid as a history of violence. The boyscouts are now sorry that they help capture the fugitives and, without Redford, they help Suzy and Sam escape again. In the morning the scout master is shocked to find out that all the kids are missing. The kids take Sam and Suzy to a bigger camp, where an older kid, Ben, can be bribed. Ben marries them in a chapel and helps them take a boat, but Suzy has forgotten the binoculars in the chapel and Sam runs back to get them. There he is confronted by Redford who alerts everybody. Everybody chases Sam until he stops and prepares for a last-ditch battle: just then lightning strikes him. The posse disperses and he is rescued by his friends. The storm is now strong enough that a dam collapses. The commander of the big camp, Ward's superior, orders to evacuate. In fact, all inhabitants of the island are being evacuated and converge on the church, including the social services woman who just landed. While the sheriff refuses to help the woman, the children are listening, wearing masks. Discovered, they run out on the roof and then climb the steeple. It is now raining furiously. The sheriff chases them and tells Sam that the social services woman has accepted that he, the sheriff, will adopt him. Sam and Suzy accept the deal: Sam goes to live with the sheriff (and starts wearing a boy sheriff uniform) while Suzy returns to live with her parents, and the sheriff helps Sam to visit Suzy.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) is fundamentally a comedy, occasionally a slapstick comedy, despite the nested flashbacks a` la Chinese boxes. Gustave, ostensibly modeled after the writer Stefan Zweig, actually seems to be modeled after Peter Sellers and the "Pink Panther" series. Wes Anderson seems to pay tribute to Blake Edwards and Billy Wilder.

The film opens in a cemetery where a young woman, carrying a copy of a book on an old grand hotel, pays tribute to the statue of the author. A flashback takes us to 1985 with the writer of the book speaking to the camera about the hotel while a little brat disturbs him. A further 20-year flashback shows the mythical hotel located in a mountain landscape (with the look and feel of a cartoon). The writer is a young man and becomes friend with the owner. The hotel is not doing well, just like the surrounding, but it used to be popular with the nobility. The owner tells him the story of how he came to own the hotel, a story that brings us back to 1932 when a certain Gustave was the manager of the hotel, and when the narrator was only a newly hired lobby boy, Zero. (The narrator has now shifted from the writer to the owner, and we are now inside the flashback of a flashback of a fashback).
Gustave was a womanizer of a particular kind: he seduced rich old vain superficial women. Nobody knows who the owner of the hotel is. One day a dowager countess dies, one of the many women loved by Gustave. Gustave and Zero (who has become his trusted assistant) take the first train to attend the funeral but are stopped at the border because tensions are rising (war is about to erupt). Zero has no documents because he is stateless. The soldiers are about to arrest him ignoring Gustave's protestations when suddenly an officer, the son of one of the old women loved by Gustave at the hotel, recognizes Gustave and orders the soldiers to release Zero. After the funeral it is obvious that the will will cause some trouble: the old lady bequeathed a precious painting, "The Boy with the Apple", to Gustave and her son Dmitri refuses to accept the fact. Gustave asks Zero to help him "steal" the painting when the son cannot stop them and then they leave. In return for Zero's help Gustave signs a documents making Zero his sole heir.
However, the police discover that the countess was murdered thanks to the testimony of chef Serge, who has disappeared right after his deposition. While Gustave is in prison planning an escape with fellow convicts, the will's executioner tells the family that there exists another will, but that too disappeared. Dmitri, the countess' violent son, is so upset that he grabs the attorney's cat and throws it from the window to an instantaneous death. Meanwhile the film describes in minute details the comic process used by the convicts to escape. Gustave tracks down the chef at the same time that the police do, while Dmitri's trusted assassin, always riding a motorcycle, intercepts a phone call between Gustave and the chef. Therefore they all know the location and time of the meeting between Gustave and Serge. Again, an elaborate and comic ritual is followed to organize the meeting in a monastery. In a confessionary the chef reveals that someone (the assassin) has killed his sister as a warning. Serge the chef knows about the second will and has a personal copy but he is murdered before he can reveal where it is hidden. Later Zero saves Gustave from the assassin after a chase on snow, but the police arrest everybody but Gustave and Zero manage to escape. War erupts. The hotel is used by the soldiers. Dmitri has joined the Nazis. Gustave and Zero sneak in dressed like delivery boys to rescue the stolen painting. They succeed after a shoutout and find out that the will is in the back of the painting. The will leaves Gustave sole heir in the event that the countess got murdered. Hence he also inherits the hotel (there are hints that the old woman was murdered by the assassin who works for her son). However, Gustave is shot by soldiers for trying again to defend the stateless Zero at a checkpoint. That is how Zero inherited the hotel. The country then fell to the communists and the decline began. Back to the present the girl, in front of the author's statue, is still reading the book written about the hotel by that (unnamed) author.

Isle Of Dogs (2018) is another stop-motion animation movie but also a dystopian sci-fi movie.

The French Dispatch (2021)

At a time when the tech world was abuzz with the "metaverse", Asteroid City (2023) felt like Anderson's cinematic version of it, a whole imaginary world meticulously recreated via striking visuals that reimagines the real world (rendered by cinematographer Robert Yeoman in videogame style) and is grounded in real events that take on mythological power. retrofuturistic The film harks back to 1955 and focuses on two memes of the time: UFOs and the atomic bomb. movie stars, "paparazzi" It also stands as a postmodernist take on cinema. It is staged as a television play, and follows the creation of the play itself, with scenes (in black-and-white footage) that show what's going on behind the scenes. The film that we watch is the making of a play that will be watched in television sets. Except that the "stage" is a town in the desert, with the vast landscape always as a co-protagonist, hardly the typical stage of a theatrical play. That sparkling chromatic landscape is so fake that it ends up feeling like another planet. For cinema buffs, there are also echoes of real-life protagonists of cinema and theater: the playwright evokes Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller, and the director evokes Elia Kazan. The film is a tribute of sorts to the era when cinema turned to a more sophisticated form of acting, thanks to directors like Kazan and actors like James Dean and Marlon Brando (with a scene that recalls Brando’s legendary audition for Tennessee Williams’s “A Streetcar Named Desire”). Meanwhile the movie star is unmistakably a reference to Marilyn Monroe. At times the film feels like Brecht's take on screwball comedy. At times it feels like a Pirandellian drama of actors in search for an author. That's really the meaning of the whole film as the story itself never reaches any conclusion. The mysteries remain mysteries, implying that art is meant to be a mystery, not an explanation. But the aura of individual and collective tragedy that hangs over the double story (the film switches back and forth between the "real life" of the actors and the fictional life of the play) is also part of the meaning. As the movie star says, this is a film of "catastrophically wounded people" and perhaps of a catastrophically wounded society, as reminded by the atomic bombs that create mushrooms in the sky, foreshadowing the future of anxiety over the chances of a nuclear holocaust. The humor interspersed in the film is surreal to the point of mimicking cartoons of the 1950s.

The film, set in 1955, begins in black-and-white. The film opens with us watching a man in a TV set, a stern television host in a suit and tie who introduces us to the playwright, Conrad, who is finishing up the play on a typewriter. The host informs us that we will watch the making of a new play titled “Asteroid City.” Basically, it's supposed to be a documentary. The playwright gets up and facing the camera begins to read his script, i.e. introduces the setting and the characters. Then the film switches to color (very vivid color) and, as the opening credits roll in, we see a train riding through the desert, carrying oranges, avocados, cars, tractors and... a 10-megaton atomic warhead. The camera then gives up a panoramic view of a town in the desert: Asteroid City. The colors are so vivid that it looks like a cartoon. A billboard informs us that the main tourist attraction is the crater left by a meteorite. This is "Act I" of the play. A tow track tows a car to a gas station. It's the car of Augie, who is traveling with his four children: nerdy teenager Woodrow and three nasty little girls (all named after galaxies). Augie has a camera permanently hanging from his neck. They all walk into a diner. While they order, they witness the mushroom of an atomic test. The town's mechanic tells Augie that he doesn't know how to fix the car. Augie witnesses a police car chasing a car (presumably bandits) and shooting at them. Augie places a phone call to his father-in-law Stanley to inform him that he's stuck in Asteroid City. The old man is disappointed when Augie confesses that he still didn't tell his children about the death of their mother. A female teacher, June, arrives in town with a doxen children. An attractive sultry woman arrives with her daughter, nerdy teenager Dinah, and local people recognize her as movie star Midge. Other tourists arrive. Augie finally tells the children that their mother died and that he is carrying her ashes in a plastic container.
We now see again (in black-and-white) the TV host (and the playwright at the typewriter). The host tells us how the playwright picked the actor for Augie and we see the audition with such actor, Jones, a former carpenter. We return to the film (in color). The cops are still chasing the bandits. Augie and Woodrow are at the diner when Midge and Dinah walks in. Augie recognizes Midge and takes a picture. He then introduces himself as a war photographer. The action moves to an open-air stage and we learn that all these people are visiting Asteroid City for a convention that commemorates the day (in 3007 BC) when the meteor struck. They all stay at the one motel. The event, presided by a five-star general, will include watching an eclipse and awarding a scholarship to a young scientist. Woodrow is one of the contestants, as are several other children of the tourists. The young scientists are introduced one by one with their inventions. Woodrow approaches the female astronomer about a still undeciphered cosmic signal and guesses that it could be a galactic date. Woodrow is shy to mingle with Dinah and the other child prodigies.
The TV host interrupts again to show us (in black-and-white) what happened on a train just before the first preview of the film. The actor who plays Woodrow enter the compartment where Mercedes, the actress playing Midge, is traveling and delivers three messages from the director of the play, Schubert. The third message begs her not to quit following their argument.
The film returns (in color) to Asteroid City, where the children are playing a memorizing game. Teacher June gets mad at the singing cowboys, led by singer Montana, because they entertain a boy. In her motel cabin Midge is rehearsing her part in a coming film. Augie watches her from his own cabin. They face each other and speak in a despondent tone. Midge plays the scene that she's rehearsing for Augie, a scene that ends with her undressing completely. Augie stares revealing no emotion. Augie's daughters decide to bury their mother's ashes. Just then granpa arrives. That night, while people watch in silence, a spaceship appears in the sky. It descends on the crater and steals what is left of the meteorite. Augie photographs the alien.
The TV host interrupts again to tell us (in black-and-white) about the play's director, Schubert, and his domestic problems.
Back to Asteroid City (in color), the general receives the order from the US president to place the town under quarantine and nobody outside must be told of the alien. Singing cowboy Montana and female teacher June become friends. Dinah and Woodrow visit the telescope run by the female astronomer. Augie and Midge keep talking from the windows of their respective cabins. Suddenly an actor pops up in a scene and apologizes: he's in the wrong movie! The kids find a way to hack the telephone line and spread the news of the alien.
Back to the TV host (in black-and-white), we are told and shown that the playwright, in collaboration with a legendary actor coach, asked the actors for help in finalizing a scene. That's how playwright Conrad discovered director Schubert.
Back (in color) to Asteroid City, tourists start flocking in attracted by the news of the alien. June and Montana are falling in love. Augie helps Midge rehearse the scenes of her forthcoming film. We get confused about which lines are from her film and which lines are about she and Augie. Then we realize that she's talking about her and Augie sleeping together, and Dinah seeing them. The president lifts the useless quarantine and that night the spacecraft reappears and the alien uncerimoniously drops the stole meteorite and leaves. The general reinstates the quarantine but the tourists revolt.
Back to the state (in black-and-white), Jones (the actor playing Augie) walks backstage and, after passing by the actor playing the alien, confronts director Schubert: Jones doesn't understand the play and is not sure that he's playing his role well. Jones walks to the balcony and finds an actress who was dismissed from the play after her scene was cut out. She recites the lines of that aborted scene to Jones: she had been hired to play Augie's wife. The TV host informs us that, six months into the run, Conrad died in a car accident. We then see a rehearsal during which the director says: "you can't wake up if you don't fall asleep". And all the actors start repeating it.
Back in color: the president lifts the quarantine and everybody leaves. Augie, his kids and granpa are the last tourists left. Midge and Dinah have left without saying goodbye. Woodrow reveals that he won the scholarship. At the diner Augie finds a note from Midge with her address. The diner shakes: another atomic bomb test. The cops are still chasing the bandits and shooting at them. Augie and his kids drive away.
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