‘Asteroid City’ or — The Most Unbelievably Annoying Thing in the World?
Is there anything more annoying than a Wes Anderson movie?
I was asking myself this question last night as I sat in the cinema waiting, obviously with utter dread, for his new movie, ‘Asteroid City’ (2023), to start. And it was a surprisingly busy cinema at that. The only problem with this was it meant it was busy with Wes Anderson fans who I can now attest are, without a doubt, the most extraordinarily grating human beings to have ever walked the face of the planet.
It wasn’t just the way they dressed — carefully trimmed beards, tweed jackets, waistcoats over t-shirts, etc –but the fact that as soon as the movie started they all began jumping up and down in their seats as the titles rolled (this was because the music was quirky and jaunty and Hey! Wes Anderson movies are quirky and jaunty which is awesome because quirky and jaunty are awesome! I’m a Wes Anderson fan!) like they were a bunch of overexcited infants about to watch Peppa Pig.
And they only got worse as the film went on because whenever anything vaguely “humourous” happened on screen they’d bellow out ear-splitting guffaws that were less genuine laughs and more a wordless exclamation of “I got that joke because I’m a Wes Anderson fan and I want, no — I NEED everyone to know that I got it! Ha, ha, ha! Look at me, everyone! Look at me laughing to Wes Anderson!”
I thought I’d oblige so turned round several times to observe them and noticed that every time they “laughed” they would turn and look at their friends so their friends could see them laughing meaning these were not natural reactions in any way shape or form but consciously orchestrated signals to let everyone know they’re a total prick.
I sat there in disbelief. “The audacity!” I thought to myself. “How dare they come into a cinema, sit down and start enjoy themselves! And to Wes Anderson movie at that?!”
Now I don’t normally have a problem with someone enjoying themselves at the cinema while I’m there but only if — A/ They do so in COMPLETE silence, and — B/ Don’t make me aware of their existence in any way whatsoever. But, obviously, these are Wes Anderson fans we’re dealing with here so of course they had to let everyone know of their existence, and it was driving me up the wall.
But my biggest problem with this was that there was literally nothing funny occurring on screen, and I mean NOTHING. This is because Wes Anderson is incapable of writing or directing comedy so, in its place, he trades purely in empty incongruity. For example — there’s a kid in the film and his first name is Woodrow, a name you’d fully expect a kid to be called in a Wes Anderson movie. But this sent these idiots into hysterics because, you know — “Woodrow. That’s a stuffy adult’s name but he’s a kid! Ha, ha, ha, look at me, ha, ha! Oh my god, Jason Schwartzman just said something totally banal but he said it in a deadpan way as opposed to a realistic one. That’s not how people talk! Ha, ha, ha, ha! This guy is a genius and I know he’s a genius so that makes me a genius too! Did you know I’m a Wes Anderson fan? Look at my waistcoat!”
They became so obnoxious I started contemplating complaining to the manager and seeing if I could get them thrown out for the crime of ‘insincere exhibitionism’ because this was not authentic behaviour I was witnessing. Sure, comedy may be subjective but these people were objectively assholes.
And believe me, this is a profoundly unfunny, sluggish, empty movie that might be in possession of an immaculate and precise aesthetic but one that covers a script that’s an utter abomination. Anderson’s dialogue may reach for a post-modernist flair but is so thudding and flat it’s technically nothing but unadulterated verbiage (at TWO points we literally listen to people recite a list of names but they were quirky names so, you know, that made it gut-bustingly hilarious). Also, it might look pretty but Anderson’s shooting style is so suffocatingly airless and hermetically sealed I kept wondering if he was attempting to be the first filmmaker to commit suicide by cinematic autoerotic asphyxiation.
Anderson’s fans might counter that this is the point, that his work’s not actually meant to be funny which is what makes it funny and that he creates (lifts wholesale) the distancing effects of Brecht and Godard to achieve this. The thing is Brecht and Godard used their distancing devices to increase engagement and stimulation whereas Anderson’s technique results in the exact opposite and with all engagement and stimulation extracted the overall effect is unrelentingly soporific.
Anderson’s adherence to his strict, repetitive style (he only uses three camera moves — lateral tracking shot, 180 degree whip-pan round a central axis, ‘symmetrical’ framing — which, in my opinion, means his films are the cinematic equivalent of the music of Status Quo… and just as dull) isn’t innovative, informative or deep because whilst those lateral tracking shots have meaning in Godard here they’re more an act of artistic cowardice; an arch, fossilised style to hide behind and an inhuman precision that allows zero room for chance to accidentally manifest, and if art doesn’t allow for chance to occur then any sense of life is impossible. All momentum is killed and the movie, invariably, drags. And this movie draaaaaags. At one point a character declares “Be inert!”, something I had absolutely no problem doing because I was already bored stiff at it was.
Then we get to the “meaning” of ‘Asteroid City’ which is let go of control (an irony for such a pathologically finicky feature) and that you can’t wake up unless you fall asleep, which is appropriate for a film that could, potentially, put you into a bloody coma. Oh, and don’t bother looking for meaning because it doesn’t exist so just keep on doing what you’re doing which means this film is, literally, meaningless. Well THANKS for the profound insight, Wes!
‘Asteroid City’ is appalling. It passes affectation off as depth and, worse, is an existential cop-out. It’s an empty piece of work by a precocious child that hides its vacuity behind the guise of being “meta” and is only fit for the consumption by the easily amused or wilfully gullible.
Needless to say the Anderson film-bros pretended to love it and loudly let everybody know how much they did.
So is there anything more annoying than a Wes Anderson movie? Well, it turns out there is… and it’s his fucking fans.