Scarlett Johansson stars in “Asteroid City” as the fictional 1950s film star Midge Campbell, one of the numerous individuals who find their way to the titular small U.S. desert town for a Junior Stargazer convention circa 1955. Recalling the framing devices in “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “The French Dispatch,” however, the main storyline in “Asteroid City” is actually a tale being told by others within the movie’s real-world setting. As /Film’s Lex Briscuso explains in her review of “Asteroid City” from the Cannes Film Festival, the film is “a play within a teleplay within a film” that’s narrated by a retro anthology television series host played by Johansson’s fellow “Isle of Dogs” voice actor Bryan Cranston.
“It’s a movie about a television show doing a story on a theater,” Cranston told THR, adding, “And I think it’s Wes’ love letter to performance art. He’s wrapped his arms around the three major mediums we are involved in.”
That’s nothing unusual, of course. Anderson has been embracing the deliberately heightened artifice of theater production design for almost his entire career, whereas films like “The French Dispatch” have also seen him integrate the aesthetics of retro television into his repertoire. If anything, he’s only leaned further away from realism and deeper into pure formalism over time, refining his craft with each new film. Feel whichever way you want about his work, but nobody makes Wes Anderson movies like Wes Anderson does — as we’re reminded every time another Wes Anderson “parody” goes viral online.