ASTEROID CITY*CUT TO THE CHASE*
NOTE: This spoiler was submitted by Jeremy
The film starts as a TV show Host (Bryan Cranston) introduces a televised production of the play, “Asteroid City”, written by famed playwright Conrad Earp (Edward Norton). Conrad describes the play, which takes place at the Junior Stargazers youth astronomy convention one summer. It takes place over three acts as Conrad introduces the main cast and setting.
War photographer Auggie Steenbeck (Jason Schwartzman) arrives in Asteroid City for his son Woodrow’s (Jake Ryan) entry in the Junior Stargazers, along with his three daughters Andromeda (Ella Faris), Pandora (Gracie Faris), and Cassiopeia (Willan Faris). After stopping in a diner, their car breaks down, and Auggie brings it to a Mechanic (Matt Dillon), where the car breaks down even more after a spark plug pops out.
Auggie goes to a phone booth to contact his father-in-law Stanley Zak (Tom Hanks). Auggie’s wife has passed away not too long ago, but he hasn’t told the kids. He asks Stanley to pick up the girls, which Stanley agrees to, but he also makes it clear that he never liked Auggie or thought he was good enough for his daughter.
Other families arrive for the convention, including actress Midge Campbell (Scarlett Johansson) and her daughter Dinah (Grace Edwards); JJ Kellogg (Liev Schrieber) and his son Clifford (Aristou Meehan); Roger Cho (Steve Park) and his son Ricky (Ethan Josh Lee); and Sandy Borden (Hope Davis) and her daughter Shelly (Sophia Lillis), who idolizes Midge. Also arriving is a school bus full of elementary schoolers led by their young teacher, June Douglas (Maya Hawke), as well as a group of cowboys. They are all tended to by the Motel Manager (Steve Carell).
Auggie tells the kids the news about their mother’s passing and tries to comfort them. He and Woodrow later go back to the diner where Midge and Dinah are eating. Auggie takes a picture of Midge, which she notices, but he says he will give her a print of the picture. Dinah also appears to be infatuated with Woodrow.
Behind the scenes of the play, the Host shows that the actor playing Auggie, Jones Hall, came to meet with Conrad one afternoon. He had brought a tub of ice cream and delivered a monologue to give inspiration to Conrad for Auggie’s character. Moments later, they started kissing.
Back in the story, the guests sit for a presentation from General Griff Gibson (Jeffrey Wright), who welcomes everyone and introduces Dr. Hickenlooper (Tilda Swinton), the scientist at the observatory that guides the Junior Stargazers. Woodrow, Dinah, Shelly, Clifford, and Ricky are all honored for their science projects. Woodrow notices a reading on one of Hickenlooper’s machines, which indicates extraterrestrial contact. The five later sit down for lunch after Woodrow initially sits alone, and they play a game where they sit in a circle and name influential figures. Meanwhile, June loses one of her students during lunch and is angry to find him with the cowboys smoking a cigarette.
Another out-universe scene occurs where the Host shows Midge’s actress, Mercedes Ford, onboard a train heading to California for the play’s production. The understudy playing Woodrow shows up to read Mercedes a letter from the play’s director, Schubert Green (Adrien Brody), who apologizes to Mercedes for how he treated her. The Host notes that the understudy replaced the actor originally playing Woodrow.
Auggie and Midge communicate since they are staying in rooms across from each other. Auggie shows Midge the developed picture of her while she recites lines from her next project in a towel, which she then drops.
Later at night, Dr. Hickenlooper gathers all the attendees in the Asteroid City crater, along with the little asteroid that did the job. From up above, a green light shines down, and a UFO descends along with a tall lanky alien (Jeff Goldblum). The Alien looks around and doesn’t say a word, but instead takes the asteroid with him before flying away, but Auggie manages to snap a picture of the Alien.
Asteroid City goes under quarantine per General Gibson’s orders. The guests are given medical and psychiatric evaluation. News about the events in Asteroid City spread across the country. When June tries to explain to her students about the Alien’s appearance, the lead cowboy, Montana (Rupert Friend), shows up to help her talk to the kids, and there appears to be a mutual attraction between them.
Stanley arrives in Asteroid City as he sees his granddaughters burying their mother’s remains in the dirt in an attempt to use witchcraft to bring her back to life. Stanley talks to the girls about their mom before watching a fireworks display with them.
Woodrow and Dinah go to the observatory and operate the telescope together. Dinah talks to Woodrow about her feelings toward her mother, while Woodrow discusses his relationship with his father. Auggie and Midge, meanwhile, continue to grow closer after he develops another picture of her. He also worries about the situation involving the quarantine and the alien.
The Junior Stargazers bribe a soldier to let them use a phone, and with their inventions, they contact someone from their school’s newspaper to get the word out about what is going on in town.
At the end of Act II, there is an intermission showing Schubert working on the play’s production. He is visited by his now ex-wife Polly (Hong Chau), who says that while she still loves him, it is not the same as before due to his womanizing habits. Schubert later goes with Conrad and the cast to meet with renowned acting coach Saltzburg Keitel (Willem Dafoe).
With tensions running high in Asteroid City, JJ, Sandy, and Roger start to grow weary and find their children’s inventions (a jetpack and laser ray, among other things) with intentions to use against the military. Other groups, like June’s students, try to make the most of the situation, like the kids making a song that the cowboys help perform. June and Montana then start dancing.
Stanley has a heart-to-heart with Auggie, saying that while he is not his biggest fan, he is willing to let Auggie and the kids stay with him because that’s what Stanley’s daughter would have wanted.
Gibson gathers the attendees to try and declare the quarantine to be over, until the Alien returns to drop the asteroid back into the crater. When Gibson tries to reinstate the quarantine, the attendees begin to revolt, and the parents use their kids’ inventions to fight the military. Woodrow takes the opportunity to use his invention to display his and Dinah’s initials on the moon, and they share their first kiss.
On the opening night of “Asteroid City”, Jones talks to Schubert about not understanding Auggie’s motivation, including a scene where he deliberately puts his hand on a hot grill in front of Midge. Schubert simply tells Jones to just keep up the performance. Jones goes outside to the fire escape for a smoke break, where he finds the actress who was supposed to play Mrs. Steenback (Margot Robbie) working on a play in the next building. Her one scene from the play was cut, but she delivers the lines to Jones poignantly to give him some kind of motivation.
The Host later announces that near the end of the play’s run, tragedy strikes when Conrad dies in a car crash. A scene with the whole cast in the acting room with Keitel has everyone chanting “You can’t wake up if you don’t fall asleep.”
Auggie wakes up to find that everyone except he and his kids have left Asteroid City since the quarantine was lifted. He goes to the diner with Stanley and the kids for one last meal, where the waitress gives Auggie an address for Midge’s PO box that she left him so they can continue talking. Woodrow also says he and Dinah are now a couple. After breakfast, the family begins to leave Asteroid City.
"Asteroid City" is a play being televised in the 1950s, showing both the production and the behind-the-scenes events. In the story, multiple groups arrive in the little desert resort of Asteroid City for a young astronomers' convention, the Junior Stargazers. During this time, some of the attendees begin to fall in love, including war photographer Auggie Steenbeck and actress Midge Campbell, along with their children Woodrow and Dinah, as well as schoolteacher June Douglas and a cowboy named Montana.
Tensions run high in Asteroid City when an alien shows up and takes the asteroid that created a crater for which the town is named after. The military issues a quarantine that goes on even after the alien comes back to return the asteroid. The attendees use the Junior Stargazers' inventions to revolt.
Out-universe, the play is written by Conrad Earp and directed by Schubert Green. Schubert's wife leaves him for his womanizing ways while Conrad has an affair with Auggie's actor Jones Hall. When Jones fails to understand Auggie's motivations, he meets the actress who was supposed to play his wife as she is working in a play next door, and she helps give him some clarity. Conrad is later killed in a car accident.
At the end of the play, Auggie and his family, plus father-in-law Stanley, are the last to leave Asteroid City. Woodrow and Dinah become a couple while Midge leaves Auggie's her PO box address so they can keep in touch.