The beauty that lies in “Everything Everywhere All at Once”

By Sydney Joa, 12th Grade

Despite its initial release back in March 2022, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” remains a still-talked-about film almost a year after its debut in theaters. Featuring the conundrum that is the idea of a multiverse, writer and directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert—known as the Daniels—use a chaotic creativity only ever seen in their works to unveil a bittersweet story about love, family dynamics, and an unattained American dream.

The A24 film follows Evelyn Wang, played by Michelle Yeoh, the tired owner of a struggling laundromat in California who is subject to an IRS investigation with her too-optimistic husband Waymond, played by Ke Huy Quan. Evelyn is first seen surrounded by piles upon piles of receipts as she prepares for her meeting with the IRS auditor Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis). Simultaneously, she’s cooking food for a Chinese New Year party she hopes will please her visiting father’s high expectations. On top of that, Deirdre accuses the laundromat of fraud, Evelyn is unaware that Waymond has filed for divorce papers, and she struggles to deal with her daughter Joy’s (Stephanie Hsu) sexuality. As a character later tells Evelyn, “you are living your worst you.”

With the mundane, yet overwhelming life Evelyn leads, she continues to make efforts to escape it. The movie reveals that she has many other interests that have turned into hobbies rather than fulfilling jobs. However, Evelyn’s life shifts profoundly when an alternate-universe Waymond uncovers that though she’s one of many Evelyns, she’s the only one who can beat Jobu Tupaki, a dangerous version of Joy who has the power to wipe out all universes. Evelyn soon finds herself on a multiverse journey that makes her reconsider all she believed she knew about herself, her mistakes, and her relationships with her family.

Though the bulk of the movie is set in the IRS office building, the Daniels don’t limit themselves to the possibilities of what can happen within it. From hot dog fingers to googly eyes to butt plug-shaped awards, the film is packed with the most seemingly random items that the Daniels somehow manage to give meaning to. Anything and everything is acceptable in the fight to save the threatened multiverse. And as Evelyn travels through the universes, each with its own unique feel, we see allusions to prominent movies like “Ratatouille,” “The Matrix,” and “2001: A Space Odyssey.” With the directors’ lack of restraint, the film may at times feel extremely overwhelming, almost as if they tried to cram everything, everywhere.

But what I think steals the thunder is Yeoh, Quan, and Hsu’s performances. Their ability to not only take on completely different versions of their characters but also be able to always weave in those bittersweet feelings of a struggling immigrant family is what makes this film so special. We see how Yeoh carries the hopes and anxieties of Evelyn’s current life and the paths she took to get there. Quan delivers an earnest yet comical portrayal of a husband who finds that the only way to get his wife’s attention is by filing for divorce. Hsu brings in the vulnerability of a daughter who wants to be truly understood and accepted by her family while bearing the pressures of her parents’ sacrifices. Regardless of the specificity that lies in each of the character’s struggles, there’s a certain pervasiveness to them that allows us to relate to each and every one of them—feeling lost, confronting relationships, and disappointing others. Fractured relationships in a limitless world.

For many Asian American viewers, this hits too close to home. The expressions of love through criticizing comments. Trying to balance the Western ideals of an American identity with the Eastern traditions our parents seek to uphold. The difficulties of learning a language you only hear at home. All experiences a lot of us can relate to.

Yeoh and Hsu’s characters in particular managed to accurately portray the complexities of a fractured mother-daughter relationship. As Evelyn traveled from universe to universe, she was able to explore all possible outcomes of her life and how much that yearning for the “what if” weighed on her relationships with her family, and especially on her daughter. Joy served as a representation of the growing generational divide; her variation as Jobu Tupaki embodied the disappointment of Evelyn’s expectations. It’s a never-ending cycle of a mother inflicting pain on her daughter while being in pain herself and a daughter bearing it as it transforms into confusion and resentment (and a bagel). And the Daniels’ choice to explore this relationship from the perspective of the parent sets it apart from the likes of the 2017 film “Lady Bird.”  They showed an aspect of the relationship that we rarely see on screen: the idea that generational healing is a collective effort among the younger and older generations.

Even though the film isn’t perfect, its intentionally chaotic feel and beautiful cinematography will find a way to tug at your strings. Since its release, the heartfelt movie has received eleven Oscar nominations and was Letterboxd’s highest-rated film of 2022. If there’s a movie that can pull off a particularly emotional scene with two rocks, it’s one that received that many Oscar nominations. It’s a great depiction of how the emptiness that may come from generational trauma can be filled with love and acceptance. It shows how life is messy and moments are fleeting. And how despite everything, we should treasure them because they can happen all at once.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s