Screening at Cannes: ‘Asteroid City’ Is Another Celebration of Wes Anderson’s Quirky Aesthetic

Life is weird and beautiful, and people are strange. Never is this more exaggeratedly or wonderfully portrayed than in director Wes Anderson's boldly-hued, unapologetically quirky movies.

Three men, one in the foreground and two in the background, stand in stark desaturated sunlight outdoors on a dirt square.
Steve Carell as “Motel Manager”, Aristou Meehan as “Clifford” and Liev Schreiber as “J.J. Kellogg”. Courtesy of Pop. 87 Productions/

Known for fusing vintage elements with futuristic, magical realism, Wes Anderson’s gorgeously attired relics of a bygone era seem timeless under his loving lens. Like Tarantino or Scorsese or Spielberg, he makes movies that are either your cup of tea or arsenic-on-screen. He divides audiences and critics, which is a reason to celebrate him rather than to rush to pick a side. Anderson is not altering his scripts and aesthetics based on marketing surveys and test screenings, and that’s okay. He does what he wants to do, resulting in a product that’s delicious for lovers of color, landscape, costumery and off-kilter, covetable soundtracks.

With Asteroid City, which will make its global premiere at Cannes with a limited theatrical release on June 16, Anderson delights the eyes with his films’ signature hyper-saturated palette, washing his landscapes and characters in a dreamy, amber-gold light, calling to mind the cinematography of The Darjeeling Limited in 2007, Moonrise Kingdom in 2012 and The Grand Budapest Hotel in 2014. Academy Award-nominated cinematographer Robert Yeoman has been a long-time collaborator, favoring symmetry, natural illumination and contrasting slow-motion scenes and briskly paced visual feasts, or eerie stillness cut by a cacophony of action. Yeoman, thankfully, returns for Asteroid City.

Considered one of his best films, The Royal Tenenbaums was a landmark for Anderson in terms of the alignment of color and character. Gwyneth Paltrow’s character Margot wore a bright, recurrent shade of yellow, Ben Stiller’s character Chas’ red jumpsuit pops. Both shades are a theme for Anderson, with multiple theorists claiming he uses red to indicate a searing, deep-rooted pain in his characters. The same brilliant red worn by Chas in the wake of losing his wife is echoed in the beanies worn throughout The Life Aquatic and in the red 1968 Porsche 912 driven by the two brothers after their father’s death in The Darjeeling Limited.

Ever since Fantastic Mr. Fox in 2009, Anderson allowed animated, hyperreal saturation of colors once primarily applied to fantasy, cartoon films to infiltrate his live-action work. The tightly controlled palettes paired with exaggerated hues and saturation not only align with but also emphasize the over-the-top plotlines and wonderful, wondrous characters.

Two men in different spaces talk on corded telephones while others look on.
Jake Ryan as “Woodrow”, Jason Schwartzman as “Augie Steenbeck” and Tom Hanks as “Stanley Zak”. Courtesy of Pop. 87 Productions/

Speaking of characters, though Anderson’s characters are always highly individual, his preference is to return to tried-and-trusted actors. Asteroid City’s Jason Schwartzman is a regular casting choice for Anderson, although Tom Hanks, Scarlett Johansson, Maya Hawk and Margot Robbie are all newcomers. We’ll miss Tilda Swinton, Timothee Chalamet and Adrien Brody, of course—but Edward Norton, Tony Revolori and Sophia Lillis are excellent compensation.

Anderson’s 2021 film The French Dispatch explored vintage quirkiness in a tale of old-school journalism through an invented history. The sense of nostalgia for a history that never happened recurs in Asteroid City, with the exploration of an anticipated future that exists in a parallel world to our current age—is it the future, or the 1950s dream of a future American city?

Similar to how the vintage cartoon The Jetsons gave us a stylized sci-fi vision of the future packed with 1960s hair and fashion, Anderson’s latest film promises to be a time capsule—one with fashion, hair and makeup that are impeccable.

A woman with dark hair and beautiful makeup leans on an open windowsill looking soulful.
Scarlett Johansson stars as “Midge Campbell” in writer/director Wes Anderson’s ASTEROID CITY, a Focus Features release. Credit: Courtesy of Pop. 87 Productions/Focus Features Courtesy of Pop. 87 Productions/

In charge of costumes for Asteroid City, Milena Canonero—whose name could make a perfect Wes Anderson movie title—is a veteran of film costume design. Her career launched with the late, great Stanley Kubrick, for whom she designed the costumes for Clockwork Orange (1971), Barry Lyndon (1975) and The Shining (1980).

Her Oscar-worthy (and winning) skills subsequently caught the eye of directors Frances F. Coppola, Sydney Pollock, Manoel De Oliveira, Sofia Coppola and Barbet Schroeder. Since 2004, Canonero has collaborated with Wes Anderson on The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited and The Grand Budapest Hotel, which earned her a fourth Oscar.

If the fact that Asteroid City has but one costume designer suggests a rather tame production, the long list of makeup and effects artists who worked on the picture knocks that assumption awry. A small army not only made the movie’s stars look movie-star glam but also applied dental and eye prosthetics and special effects makeup. Rumors that Asteroid City evolves from quirky drama-comedy into a full-blown sci-fi epic might be exaggerated, but the arrival of a spacecraft—and maybe even alien life forms—will almost certainly result in some eye-popping visual transformations among the characters.

Asteroid City will have a wide release on June 23. Until then, if the film’s preview and the many social media homages inspired by it have whet your appetite for Anderson’s singular aesthetic and knack for storytelling of the magic realism-drama ilk, the small screen delivers another new Anderson in the shape of a Netflix film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s short story The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar. It will be Anderson’s second adaptation of Dahl’s beloved stories, following the George Clooney-helmed Fantastic Mr. Fox.

A man wearing all white with a straw hat poses in front of a sign reading Asteroid City.
Writer and director Wes Anderson on the set of Asteroid City. Courtesy of Roger Do Minh/Pop. 8
Screening at Cannes: ‘Asteroid City’ Is Another Celebration of Wes Anderson’s Quirky Aesthetic