For a film so startlingly divisive, I feel that it’s important to begin with my most basic opinion: I absolutely do not hate, or even dislike, Everything Everywhere All at Once. I think it’s a sweet and fun little film. It’s a multiverse film, but one that is actually interesting enough, moving enough, and culturally and artistically aware enough.
To me, EEAAO is a mother-daughter conflict blown up to epic proportions. It tells the story of Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh), a woman who feels she has not lived up to her full potential — or much potential at all — and who is now floundering. Evelyn is ambivalent about her husband and daughter, still concerned about what her father thinks of her, and drowning in financial woes surrounding her failing laundromat. Her daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu), feels simultaneously pressured and totally unseen by her mother, who is “fine” with her daughter’s lesbianism as long as it basically doesn’t exist outwardly in any sense.
The battle between the two of them — which ultimately, it feels, boils down to how the same they are — becomes one that is multi-universal, plummeting them through endless storylines and narratives, in many of which they are actually respectively happier or more empowered.
We are in an era of endlessly telling stories about semi-pathetic women floundering in their semi-patheticness — they’re just usually white, millennial, and sexually fixated.
I think that Everything Everywhere All at Once actually explores that same floundering, pathetic modern woman story quite well, and freshly. The most moving aspects are the ones where Evelyn and Joy attempt to reconnect over their shared grappling with a sense of patheticness. Evelyn’s grand statements of love for Joy often come out sounding like accusations. “She turned out stubborn, aimless, a mess, just like her mother,” Evelyn describes Joy at her most loving moment.
At the film’s climax, Evelyn spews her laundry list of everything she hates about Joy before announcing that, despite not being able to explain it, she will always want to be in this exact timeline with this exact daughter. These moments are touching, interesting twists on a modern trope.
While I find this dynamic to be the beating heart and most interesting arc of the film, I also find EEAAO as a whole engaging and pleasant enough. It’s visually compelling and generally emotionally aware enough to pack a punch at moments.
I also, however, think that the absolutely explosive response to Everything Everywhere All at Once is a marker of how much drivel we are being offered in our current cinematic theatrical landscape.
At moments, especially the moments where it seems The Daniels feel gleefully self-aware and special about what they’re doing (“It’s like a Marvel movie, but butt plugs, guys!” is occasionally the tone that comes off, to me). In many senses, Everything Everywhere All at Once is the best possible version of the bajillion hollow multiverse, teaming-up-to-fight-some- unfathomable-universal-threat, kind of film.
Are we so thrilled because it’s truly that fresh? Or is it that we are fed so much of the same, but worse than EEAAO, that we are desperate for something that’s the same flavor but finally slightly thoughtful, slightly earnest, and slightly nuanced?
I watched Everything Everywhere All at Once early-ish in the cycle of discourse — early enough that I had minimal information about the actual plot, but late enough that I noticed that responses to the film were being divided up into totally love it or totally hate it categories, and that people were becoming extremely defensive on both ends.
I feel culturally we are in an era of needing to claim art with increasing ferociousness to prove our enjoyment of something — it can’t just be that we like a film, or that it moved us, it has to be that it explains our very being or changed our lives.
To be clear, here I speak not of diversity in our casting or the stories we tell about marginalized groups, I wholeheartedly believe that these forms of representation are necessary and that people should “see” themselves in that way. Instead, I am speaking to the way in which we have a discourse-ified cultural form of communication now, where despite having people frequently crowing that we should just “let people enjoy things” for the sake of it, we also feel increasing pressure to have our media reflect our inherent selves, something deep and true and total within us. (Here, I do not point fingers, but also critique myself — I have felt trained by some cultural impulse to collect art that resonates and presume that it must be resonating with me because I see myself reflected in it somehow, not just because it’s interesting or good art, which should be the goal).
My favorite thought about Everything Everywhere All at Once was this very simple image. Upon reflection, it’s not just an interesting observation of the film’s messaging, but actually a pretty concise summation of how I feel about the film as a whole.
This movie is mostly good and worthwhile. It is not evil, or offensive, or a harbinger of doom (certainly not to the extent that corporate cinema overlords like Disney and Marvel are). But it is also, genuinely speaking, some pretty light fluff, even if that light fluff is quite earnest and touching. It is not a marker of some massive shift in cinema — it is, instead, a passing and transient, good enough, kind of film. And that’s perfectly fine.