Ego is a curious thing, one may be big, one may be small, but we all have one regardless. Now, imagine the scope of the entire universe. Our planet is just one of nine planets that orbit our sun, and our planet is quite puny compared to half of the others. Our star is likewise quite puny compared to the billions of other stars in our galaxy, which is itself just one of trillions of galaxies out there in all that exists. Comprehending all of that makes you feel quite insignificant, doesn’t it? It makes you wonder what other realities could exist out there, maybe there’s a reality that parallels our very own? Maybe there’s a universe where WWII never happened? That’s the very concept that Everything Everywhere All At Once explores and does so better than any project before, or possibly in the future, could ever achieve.
The story focuses on Evelyn, a Chinese-American laundromat owner who refers to one of her customers as “Big Nose.” The first sign of the multiverse’s existence is a montage of Evelyn’s entire life while she’s in an elevator, and as weird as that sounds, it’s nowhere near as weird as the other alternate realities to her own that she discovers exist across the universe. One of those realities includes a delightfully funny reference to Ratatouille, but with a raccoon instead of a rat, in another reality, everybody has hot dogs for fingers, in another, everything looks like a child’s drawing, in another, everyone’s a piñata, and in yet another still, the two main characters are just rocks, with no way of talking besides these hilarious captions on the screen.
These are admittedly bizarre, but are still all things you’d expect to see in alternate realities; it’s not just trippy for the sake of it, this movie utilizes the weirdness to perform a psychological study on why exactly human beings are useless while alone, and why ultimately, at the end of the day, nothing matters. These are harsh truths that in another project would just sound laughable, but here, there’s a strange amount of credibility to the discouraging truths it addresses.
To unleash your personality from some other alternate universe, it’s said here that you have to inflict self-pain or do something highly unpleasant, such as eating ChapStick or giving yourself papercuts. This is called “verse jumping.” Once you do that, you can turn into the you of another universe who knows kung fu, and you can beat up police officers by using two dildos (trust me, it’s a lot more terrifying if you actually watch it happen). Now, it would have helped these exposition-heavy scenes if there was more conflict and less profound philosophies, but it’s still lightyears better than those arthouse sci-fi movies that have plagued cinema over the last decade.
It's so much fun to see the clever idea pan out—that every tiny decision you make creates another branching universe of alternate decisions being made. Perhaps there’s a reality where Evelyn doesn’t call her daughter fat, and maybe in that universe, their relationship would be a lot healthier. There are approximately ten of these types of realities being shown at once, all with their own fully realized plots, and all of which are miraculously resolved by the end.
However, that consequently makes the movie quite exhausting to watch because everything moves by so fast with special effects hiding in plain sight around every corner. There’s some rubbery CGI for the stunt choreography that looks a lot like when bodies are flying in the MCU—a bunch of ragdolls with no life in them. There’s also an unnecessary censor blur over a guy’s bare nutsack as if this wasn’t an R-rated movie, and that one raccoon in the Ratatouille universe is nothing more than a cheap animatronic. The overwhelming stylized look of the movie isn’t helped by the dark lighting, which can’t give you a good look at the actors’ faces. It would have helped if there was more intent on exploring what it means to be Chinese-American, as that concept is forgotten after the first few scenes, and making that more of a thread throughout the narrative would have given a direct point of focus amidst the chaos.
Yet I still would have to give lots of credit to the two directors/writers behind this ambitious project, as they instill lots of symbolism in the use of round mirrors that represent the fear of self, as well as the use of an everything bagel to represent the black hole that Evelyn fears her daughter is getting closer to. She hypocritically condemns her daughter for turning her own life into a mess, despite the fact that she can’t keep her laundromat business out of financial trouble.
The key to why this perplexing experimental movie works so well is in Joy, Evelyn’s daughter. She’s a lesbian but doesn’t act under the stereotypes of one, and she’s still learning Chinese, being part of a generation that was born and raised in America. Although you get to hear all about what Evelyn and her father think of Joy’s lifestyle, and whether or not they support her, Evelyn’s husband never gets any word about it; you never know whether he supports Joy or disapproves of who she loves, so there was a missed opportunity there. But the mother-daughter conflict is just what this story needed to be something truly special, something where a middle-aged Chinese woman and an overweight twenty-something Chinese woman perform some awesome action choreography that puts Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan to shame. Those scenes which show off their hours of combat training pay off and make this wild ride all the more fun to watch as the combination of sped-up footage and slow-motion showcases what these two women can do.
So what are you waiting for? An alternate version of yourself to watch this movie? Please go watch Everything Everywhere, All At Once, and you shall see why this is a step forward in normalizing arthouse cinema techniques for mainstream moviegoers, all while presenting innovative ideas and concepts that successfully please the modern cultural values of progression and empowerment.
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!