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Peek at the Patricia: An exhilarating triumph of pure style

Asteroid City is about desire and death, small mysteries and cosmic unknowns, and the stories we make of all the stuff called life,' ~ Gary Shilling, qathet Film Society

Wes Anderson’s 1950s sci-fi film Asteroid City is an exhilarating triumph of pure style. The director and his all-stars go meta with a TV show about a theatrical play that, in turn, is about a small town, USA.

Written by Anderson, the film is about desire and death, small mysteries and cosmic unknowns, and the stories we make of all the stuff called life. Set in September 1955 in a tiny desert town known as Asteroid City (where the Arid Plains Asteroid touched down), the main plot takes place over the course of a week in which a motley crew that has descended on the town for the Asteroid Day and Junior Stargazer celebrations finds themselves stranded.

Naturally, the film is dense with wordy witticisms, referential names and visual jokes, but Anderson allows us to linger, a little, in his carefully crafted design, which is not so much a jewel box but more like a diorama this time around. Though we’re told this is a “play,” it’s not filmed or presented as a contained theatrical experience, but rather as an intensely cinematic work, with a sentient, even humorous camera that reveals the space and characters in leisurely pans and textured Kodak film.

Asteroid City’s eccentricity, its elegance, its gaiety and its sheer profusion of detail within the tableau frame make it such a pleasure. So, too, does its dapper styling of classic American pop culture.

With every new shot, your eyes dart around the screen, grabbing at all the painterly little jokes and embellishments, each getting a micro-laugh. The funny and profound Asteroid City feels like the movie of the summer, eerily tapping into current news about UFOs while synthesizing the retro-pop styling of Barbie with the atomic age anxiety of Oppenheimer. It all leads back to deeply existential queries and conversations.

Asteroid City, rated PG, plays at the Patricia Theatre from August 11 to 15 at 7 pm, with a matinee on Sunday, August 13, at 1:30 pm. Running time is one hour and 45 minutes.

Gary Shilling is executive director of qathet Film Society.

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