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Wes Anderson’s wonderfully pastel world

Nearly three decades after the cheeky and fresh Rushmore (1998) and The Royal Tenenbaums, Wes Anderson takes us back to familiar territory. After trips to Europe with The Grand Budapest Hotel and The French Dispatch, Anderson’s new comedy, Asteroid City, takes him back to his native Texas – specifically to a comically small and sparsely populated village that hosts the annual Junior Astronomers convention. The teenage prodigies show off their latest gadgets to scientists and Department of Defence officials alike, and then compete for the “White Dwarf Medal of Merit”.

The sign outside Asteroid City reads “Pop. 87”, but it seems the only permanent residents are the town’s highway owner (Steve Carell) and his employees; everyone else is just passing through, and of course, no one stays long. The pensive young inventor Woodrow (Jake Ryan) is accompanied by his father Augie (Jason Schwartzman), who has recently been widowed and is transporting his wife’s ashes across the country in a Tupperware. Meanwhile, when the other astronomers aren’t gushing with their professional mentors, they’re munching on pancakes at the local restaurant or gazing at the ancient crater that serves as the area’s only tourist attraction… Their weekdays of boredom are finally interrupted by a mysterious extra-terrestrial visit, which leads to an extended quarantine on their holiday, ordered by the White House.

Anderson’s first feature film, Bottle Rocket (1996), was a rough draft by his own standards, but it contained many of the hallmarks of his subsequent films: bright colours, sharp frames, whimsical hand-drawn patterns, surrealistically romantic gestures and, of course, a melancholy lurking beneath the surface. The film also established Owen Wilson’s cinematic persona as Dignan, the dim psychic whose criminal fantasies involve robbing his friend’s house with his depressed pal Luke Wilson. Less than two years later, Anderson made one of the greatest coming-of-age comedies ever, Rushmore, which borrowed heavily from the classic The Graduate. Fifteen-year-old Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) lacks confidence and vision, but there’s plenty of room for maturity and growth. The film is based on his coming-of-age, but Anderson allows his protagonist to be callous and flawed, overwhelmed by youthful narcissism. He is the editor of the school magazine and yearbook: president of the French Club, the German Club, the Chess Club and the Stargazing Club: captain of the fencing team and president of the rhetorical self-training group: and director and producer of the Max Fisher Drama Company, for which he writes plays about police corruption, big-city crime, war and other pleasures of life… Anderson’s next comedy-drama, The Royal Tenenbaums, was released in 2001. It centres on a successful and artistic New York family and the outcast patriarch played by Gene Hackman. The film starred Anjelica Huston as the ex-wife and Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson and Gwyneth Paltrow as the children. The film was a box office and critical success. Until Moonrise Kingdom in 2012, it was its biggest financial success, grossing over $50 million domestically. The Royal Tenenbaums was nominated for an Academy Award and was named one of the best films ever made by Empire .Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom was released in 2012 and was in contention for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. The film is a coming-of-age comedy set in a fictional New England town starring Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton. The film was emblematic of Anderson’s style and earned Anderson another Oscar nomination for his screenplay. The film was made on a budget of just $16 million and grossed $68 million at the box office. Set largely in the 1930s, 2014’s The Grand Budapest Hotel follows the adventures of the hotel’s concierge, M. Gustave. The film has been one of Anderson’s biggest critical and commercial successes, grossing nearly $175 million worldwide and being nominated for dozens of awards, including nine Oscar nominations, four of which it won for Best Set Design, Best Costume Design, Best Make-up and Best Original Score.

Asteroid City, released in June, has everything you need for a typical Wes Anderson film: a storybook tale, dollhouse-style sets, sleepy pastels, retro music and, of course, a star-studded cast of some of the most talented actors of our time!