Wes Anderson’s ‘Asteroid City’ Charms Cannes With Six-Minute Standing Ovation for Scarlett Johansson as Movie Star Visited by Aliens

Wes Anderson brought cowboys, aliens and movie stars to the Cannes Film Festival on Tuesday, earning a six-minute standing ovation at its world premiere.

Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Jason Schwartzman, Matt Dillon, Maya Hawke, Steve Carell, Jeffrey Wright, Ed Norton, Margot Robbie and Jeff Goldblum are among the starry ensemble cast — many of whom were in attendance at the Grand Palais with their notoriously stylish and exacting director.

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The project tells of a desert tourist trap that was one the sites of an asteroid landing, which also doubles as the location of an annual camp for “stargazers and space cadets.” The conceit is a story-within-a-story, as the cast plays a troupe of actors and stage crew for a play. Johansson had the Cannes crowd swooning as a movie star derailed in Asteroid City (and also as an actress playing that actress in the meta story).

Donning a cropped black wig and always swilling a martini, Johansson fit perfectly in Anderson’s Americana milieu. Male lead Schwartzman earned laughs as an awkward war photographer grieving his late wife and herding three young daughters and a brainiac son.

The events taking place in Asteroid City are part of the play within a play, written by Norton and narrated by Bryan Cranston. The film’s actors play characters stranded in the desert after an alien invasion in the primary story, and are also shown as actors cast to play those roles in a larger story outside the play.

New faces like Carell, Davis, Hanks and Liev Schreiber were welcome additions, while Anderson stretched his old guard in new ways. As the author of the play within the film, Norton develops romantic feelings for Schwartzman. The men shared a touching kiss following a particularly effective rehearsal.

“I’m so pleased to show the movie for the first time. We’ve never seen it before ourselves. Thank you to our cast of stupendous actors playing actors,” Anderson told the crowd at the Palais.

Anderson’s 11th feature directorial effort, “Asteroid City” is a reunion between the director and his “Moonrise Kingdom” distributor Focus Features. “Moonrise Kingdom” also made its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, and it went on to earn an Academy Award nomination for best original screenplay.

Although Johansson appeared in “Isle of Dogs” in a voice role, “Asteroid City” marks the double Oscar nominee’s first time leading a live-action Anderson movie. Anderson told Variety as part of Johansson’s Cannes cover story that he wrote the role specifically for her.

“I was curious: Who is this person? How did she get here, to be so successful at that time? She’s this star of stage and screen — what drove her there?” Johansson said about the role. “I like the sort of constraints of Wes’ precision. I think in some ways, it’s more liberating.”

“She’s formidable and vulnerable at the same time and just really captivating. Bette Davis’ whole career, the span of it, was something I could hang my hat on,” Johansson added to Entertainment Weekly about her character. “I’m not playing Bette Davis, but it helped give an idea of what this person’s career is and what it was like to be a woman in those circumstances then.”

“Asteroid City” opens in U.S. theaters on June 16 from Focus Features.

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