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  • Writer's pictureA.K. Lee

Review: Everything Everywhere All at Once

Before I even begin, if you have yet to watch it, if this movie is still playing in a cinema near you, if you are comfortable with the risk of sitting in a movie theater for a couple of hours... Go watch it. Go. This review - more of a reflection, to be honest - can wait.

+++Spoilers Until the next picture+++

A brief synopsis will do the film no justice, but I will do my best: Michelle Yeoh plays Evelyn, an immigrant running a laundromat with her husband. Her lesbian daughter, Joy, can't connect with Evelyn meaningfully; her husband Waymond tries and fails to connect with Evelyn either. Evelyn's father is now in their care, and he has never approved of Evelyn or Waymond. The IRS is auditing their business and Evelyn is feeling overwhelmed. Then Waymond suddenly changes personalities with a different Waymond, who calls himself Alpha-Waymond, to deliver a warning to Evelyn: a terrible creature called Jobu Tupaki is out to get her, and she had better learn to defend herself. Why her? Alpha Waymond says that it is because this Evelyn is the one who made all the wrong choices, and so has the greatest potential for change and growth.

What follows is two hours and a bit of an utterly glorious, chaotic, hilarious, irreverent, thoughtful and heartfelt story of a mother feeling out of her depth in a world that has changed too much for her to keep up. Colorful action-packed sequences externalize just how terrifying and bewildering the world is to Evelyn, and unlike Campbell's hero, she refuses the call to action; she is dragged into it. But once she sees Jobu Tupaki, she accepts that she has to be the one to resolve the problem. Because - much to Evelyn's horror and sorrow - Jobu Tupaki is the daughter of Alpha-Evelyn, and Alpha-Evelyn broke her own daughter's mind.

Thus begin Evelyn's mind-blowing experience of being all the Evelyns possible - the successful movie star Evelyn, the pizza sign twirling Evelyn, the hotdog-fingered Evelyn... And she sees the Everything Bagel, and finally, finally understands her daughter. But her heart also encompasses Waymond, her mild-mannered, kind and sweet husband, who chooses compassion because the world is violent, who chooses to be soft because the world is hard, who chooses to love and to help and to try.

There is a choice for Evelyn to make, again.

+++End Spoilers+++

The sci-fi multiverse-jumping story weaves together in a dizzying rush, but at the core of it is a simple, relatable story of a parent and a child who do not really understand each other, as well as a married couple who are struggling to connect. It is about not giving in to nihilism and despair, especially in the face of everything happening everywhere around the world, seemingly all at once. It is about rejecting the bagel and enjoying the googly eyes.

I watched it with a friend, with minimal anticipation. After the disappointments of several 'great' movies, I decided not to get my hopes up. But how glad I am to have watched it with an open heart and open mind, because the film was nearly perfect, in my opinion.

The Daniels injected pretty much every genre they love into the movie and it was evident that they had deep passion for this story. I have always enjoyed a dose of Hong Kong mo lei tau humor, and this delivered in spades. (I shall never look at employee awards in the same way again.) Their sheer audacity to have an extended sequence of absolutely no movement and only diegetic sound, relying solely on text to convey what was arguably one of the most emotional beats of the movie, won me over completely in their storytelling abilities. On a lighter note, I appreciated the homages paid to various genre movies, because I grew up on so many of them.

While I am part of Chinese diaspora, I am not a minority in my country. Here, Singlish - a hodgepodge of Chinese, English, Malay, and a sprinkling of other Chinese dialects - will guarantee a sense of belonging. However, more and more of the younger generations no longer speak the same tongues as their grandparents; a generation of culture and oral history is slowly being eroded for homogeneity.

Like Joy, I feel both the alienation from and a longing for a relationship with my own mother. Like Joy, I am an only child. There is no one I can turn to and say, 'Can you believe this?' My mother was a rebel when she was much younger, and a child prodigy besides, but that only meant jealous siblings and classmates. She is (understandably) estranged from her own siblings, and I am the reluctant bridge that facilitates the most superficial of communications. I was never a child genius like my mother was, but the pressure was always there, to be someone important; I empathized with Joy's character and struggles, because what I want is merely a simple existence, not the burden of my mother's expectations and thwarted dreams. Add to the fact that I am also queer (Joy has a girlfriend; I am bisexual) and for once, for once in an American movie, I truly felt seen. And because Evelyn is the protagonist, I understand her - and my mother - a little better.

I watched this movie on 16 April, and I am still thinking about its intricacies and layers almost a month later. There are very few movies that move me to that extent nowadays. If you missed it in the cinemas, let's all hope A24 releases this on streaming platforms and DVD/Blu-Ray soon. Heck, if they put it on VHS I would buy the tapes. It is a movie worth savoring over and over.

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