Plot: “An aging Chinese immigrant is swept up in an insane adventure, where she alone can save the world by exploring other universes connecting with the lives she could have led.” -IMDB
Review: Earlier this year, I read Roger Ebert’s autobiography Life Itself. In the book, the film critic said, “If you don’t know how to describe a film, write about the experience.” As I sit with Everything Everywhere All at Once, this quote is guiding my reaction to this film.
The opening 30 minutes of this movie are chaotic and noisy, yet foundational. Here, we meet the Chinese immigrant family at the center of this story and the laundromat/apartment they own that will serve as a base camp for our adventure. In these first 30 minutes, we experience our first encounter with the multiverse; spaces in time, we will spend the rest of the film exploring. The rules holding these worlds together and allowing characters to move about them are confusing (my only real complaint with this film). Ultimately, what we learn in the first 30 minutes is what we will spend the rest of the film unpacking.
In those first 30 minutes, we learn of generational trauma and the impossible weight of expectations. We meet a married couple whose marriage is falling apart, a mother and daughter with a deeply strained relationship based on cultural experiences, a daughter seeking acceptance for who she is and who she loves, and the challenges many immigrants face as they navigate a system that is not built with them in mind. As familial drama pours over into the multiverse, there is a lifetime of experiences to draw upon, as Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), the mother/wife at the center of this story, wrestles with her new unbelievable reality.
The multiverse itself unleashes fantastic capabilities and a daughter, Joy Wang (Stephanie Hsu), who will serve an all powerful and misunderstood villain. While the multiverse is hilarious, it is a tool for the dominant story. For Evelyn, we see a woman burdened by the work of holding a family and business together. For Joy, we see a daughter fully immersed in Western culture, but fighting an ingrained desire to please her parents. In so many ways, these are fully realized and complex human beings. They are the full sum of a unique story; a story unseen by most native-born Americans.
The arc of this film is a journey toward reconciliation between mother and daughter, wife and husband, and cultural expectations. Or will everything fall apart? This journey is wonderfully hilarious, deeply philosophical, and presents the audience with a unique cinematic experience. Its writing beautifully holds the world together, the cinematography is awe-inspiring, and the acting/directing is some of the best I have experienced in a long time.
Everything Everywhere All at Once was a cinematic journey I did not want to end. Its first 30 minutes deserve a second watch just to provide some clarity, but when it finds its footing, it delivers a film I will never forget.
Be good to each other,
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