I’ll tell you right now, I’m not a huge movie person. I don’t watch enough films to know how to properly critique one, but Everything Everywhere All at Once was so crazy to me, and so meta that it moved me to write this reflection. I am warning you to not go on reading this blog if you intend on seeing the movie, because I WILL be dropping spoilers and I don’t want to ruin the movie for you! So go on and get a snack or read another post! Come back here after you’ve watched it and are ready to discuss.
The movie is set in modern day America (probably California) and we follow the story of Chinese immigrant, mother, wife, daughter, laundromat owner, Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh). In the beginning of the film, she struggles to maintain the responsibilities of these roles, all while her business is being audited and her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) tries to get her to sign divorce papers. We quickly learn that there is a lot more at stake than filing her taxes. With the help of A24, the Daniels directors take us on a Rick and Morty type journey, traveling through different universes to acquire the necessary skills needed to stop Jobu Tubaki (Stephanie Hsu) from killing off all the versions of Evelyn across the multiverse, and to save the multiverse from being thrown into Jobu’s giant everything bagel. It all sounds ridiculous in my words, but it all makes more sense on screen.
Shout out to my friend Nicole (who has now gone to the theater 3 times to see it) for insisting I go watch it, because it’s easily now one of my top 5 favorite movies of all time. I grew to appreciate the movie so much more during my second time watching it. I feel so drawn to these characters, especially because I see so much of my own mother in Evelyn, and so much of myself in her daughter, Joy (ironically my mother’s name was Joy too).
Photo Credit: A24 Films
Much like Evelyn– and many other Asian parents I know– my mother also had a habit of critiquing her child, and even people I introduced her to, she was always in a rush to get things done, she made the choice to leave her family to pursue a life in America, she had to struggle adapting to American customs in order to live a stable life, she drew her husband away because of how focused she was on her career and making sure her family was fed, and ultimately my mother was a hero in helping her daughter realize how much more there is to the life than what’s physically in front of us. Everything Everywhere All At Once really made me stop and reflect on how my insecurity as a young girl turned into rebellion that deeply affected my mother. It also helped me realize that her prioritization of other issues made me feel unseen and unworthy. We were so tangled up in our own separate worlds to realize how much we truly needed each other. It was just a crazy feeling to see a bit of my own life played out on screen– as chaotic as it seems, I’ve never related so much to a movie like this before.
I just feel that all parents need to watch this with their kids because it opens the floor for discussion on what both parties need from one another for a healthy relationship. Parents need to be held accountable for the pressure they impose on their kids and they need to recognize their kids when they feel unheard or unseen. While at the same time, the children need to be more available to their parents, especially when they’re feeling overwhelmed. From Evelyn’s perspective, Joy would only show up when she needed something from her mom, and Joy never really understood that Evelyn appreciated her daughter’s presence. She wasn’t aware of how important her role was as a daughter when her mother went to handle the tax matters on her own. It’s as if both sides had misunderstood expectations from one another. Joy wanted love and acceptance from her mother in a way that Evelyn didn’t know how to give. And Evelyn wanted her daughter to be more present and helpful.
Me and my mother back in 2016.
But there is wayyy more to the movie than that mother-daughter relationship. This film is about the life of an immigrant, it’s about making decisions, and how your choices influence other people’s lives. It’s about loving another person, loving ourselves– how we express our love, and how some of us even rely heavily on others for providing that love to us. It shows us how crucial it is to heal from generational trauma ties. It’s about sorrow and despair from feeling unseen, especially in the queer community. It brings to light the toxicity of people-pleasing, and it’s a film about sacrifices. It’s about regret, and how we choose to move on from past decisions. And If you look past the kinky, fetish type scenes you’ll really learn to love it and apply some of their life lessons into your own life.
One of my favorite parts of the movie is watching the different versions of Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Evelyn’s relationship. In the main universe (the one with the taxes) we see them merely as a tax preparer and a client, but the feelings get more tense between them as the appointment goes on, and more especially when Evelyn punches her in the face and learns that Deirdre is an enemy from another universe. I feel like they were in a lesbian relationship in another universe because of how much tension and lack of appreciation they had for each other in the main universe. This contradiction creates a balance between all the universes because while in one universe their love may seem impossible, it is the only focus in another. I also love that the writers made their lesbian love possible in another universe because it gave Evelyn access to that memory and feeling of loving another woman, thus giving her access to understanding Joy’s love for Becky.
In the beginning of the film we also meet Waymond Wang, the seemingly optimistic husband. He does his best to try to help his wife prepare for the party, sort out the tax stuff, and look after his father-in-law, but it’s never enough for Evelyn. She complains to Joy that he’s always messing something up. There's an obvious imbalance in their marriage that the audience are aware of, that Evelyn doesn't notice until she's faced with the divorce papers. On the surface he tries to be a happy and helpful husband, but all the while he holds these divorce papers to get her to see his true pain and his desire to be loved and seen by Evelyn. It is her priorities over these tasks that blinds her from seeing the pain he and their daughter are going through. Although some versions of Waymond come off as physically weak, he stands to be one of the strongest characters in the movie because he endures through all this hardship through being kind and loving. He’s the one thread that strives to bring peace to all the madness.
Photo Credit: A24 Films
The writers did a fine job creating the dialogue for this movie, too. I love how they used it to show the development of Evelyn’s character. Early in the film, Evelyn really encapsulates the character of an immigrant Asian woman calling one of her customers “Big Nose'' in Chinese, as a way to hold power over the American through that language barrier. She also speaks very curtly to that same customer, not necessarily to be rude, but to get straight to business. And from my own experience being born and raised in America by Asian immigrant women, I know that a lot of them often speak like this and may come off as rude to most, but really they are just limited in their words to fully communicate their true intentions.
And while we are on the note of immigrants, one of the scenes that stood out to me the most was when Deirdre told Evelyn she would be held accountable for gross negligence. This caused Evelyn to get teary eyed and she said, “You people always try to confuse us with these big words.” And it’s at this moment we see the power dynamic shift through that same language barrier. While Evelyn may have felt powerful back in the laundromat with “Big Nose,” she loses her power here in front of Deirdre as she struggles to understand and adapt to the American customs. As sad as this scene is to me, I feel like it was super necessary because it represents the hardship for immigrants who are forced to put aside their own culture to learn a whole new way of life.
The pace was great too. The movie started off steady, and really picked up as the action started taking place. And while there were plenty of flashing, verse-jumping scenes, the filmmakers balanced the pace out with peaceful scenes such as the ones in the rainy alleyway, and the heartfelt scene between the two rocks on the cliffside.
All in all, the movie made me feel pretty much everything all at once (pun intended). The blend of comedy and action and drama and all these different genres is so masterful because it all reflects the title of the movie. It brought me to tears, to laughter, it got me worried, it got me thinking, it got me feeling regretful, and it gave me hope. And out of all these feelings, the one that stands out the most is proud. I feel like for the first time, an American made movie has successfully represented an aging Asian woman as our hero, while giving the audience the power to mend their relationships and to make better life choices. Please go watch Everything Everywhere All At Once when you get the chance!