By Pen Fang
This review contains spoilers for Everything Everywhere All At Once.
Though it’s been a while since the film’s release, Everything Everywhere All At Once still rests in my mind. Perhaps it’s a bit of the brilliant and creative comedy — after all, there aren’t many movies that feature an everything bagel as the ultimate villain. Maybe it’s the both specific and universal struggles explored, from Evelyn’s relationship with her family to taxes. Or perhaps it’s the movie’s very distinct voice, the utter chaos that is used as a vessel for character and plot exploration — it’s a multiverse movie that feels like one.
The messiness of the film only accentuates it. Everything Everywhere All At Once would not be quite as everything, everywhere, or all at once without the chaotic jumps from universe to universe, the comedy that flares up randomly like laughter, and the colors and craziness. Furthermore, the multiverse is used as a way to explore possibilities — all the “maybes” and “could-have-beens” — that develop the characters further.
We follow the hectic life of Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), a laundromat owner struggling to balance herself, her relationship with her family, her job, along with everything else going on in her life. Her husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), is planning on filing for a divorce. To add even more to her pile, she tries to balance life with Gong Gong (James Hong), her father who dwells a bit more on the traditional side, and Joy (Stephanie Hsu), her daughter who is bringing home a girlfriend and a mess of identity crisis and growing pains as well.
When Evelyn and her family are at the IRS building in an attempt to keep the laundromat, Waymond temporarily becomes replaced by his counterpart from another universe who calls to Evelyn for assistance, launching her into the multiverse. She has to defeat the evil “Jobu Tupaki,” a multiverse villain with a weapon carrying the ability to destroy everything: the everything bagel. (Spoiler, it is revealed that Jobu Topkai is one of the multiverse reincarnations of Joy.)
We then follow Evelyn’s journey, traveling across this rich multiverse, marked with short spurts of humor and deeper meaning. Perhaps Evelyn is now a movie star, a taekwondo master, or even just has hot dogs for fingers. However, one of the most hard-hitting scenes for me was the simple reincarnation of Evelyn and Joy as rocks. No dialogue, barely even any movement. Just rocks with googly eyes and some text on a screen.
I think nothing epitomizes the film better.
The slightly absurd comedy and the hint of sadness that threads through the moment, even through the silliness. Plus, the slowed-down focus on the mother-daughter relationship that drives part of the film (not to ignore Waymond). Though the movie would not be the same without the messy vibrance, the simplicity of the rocks scene helps to drive another part of it — the subtleties woven through the quieter parts of the movie.
These subtleties are what develops the family and their relationships. We have the strenuous mother-daughter relationship between Evelyn and Joy that reflects Joy’s own relationship with her father, Gong Gong. From these, we see the cultural and generational differences from the perspective of an immigrant family. We also see Waymond and Evelyn’s relationship unfold and continue, even throughout the different universes. This exploration of relationships and dynamics makes the film feel so very human, even when the characters become inanimate rocks or have hot dogs for fingers. It adds to the life already present in the film by infusing it with an emotional journey that resonates with us as viewers.
On a closing note, the film carries a message of optimistic nihilism. The characters, as well as the audience, are forced to grapple with the questions of purpose and meaning in life, and the film drives home the message of independence and choice in life. If nothing matters, we can choose what matters.