Everything Everywhere All at Once blew my mind. Yes, it's chaos and absurdity at an extravagant scale – and it's nothing like I've ever seen before.
But that's just not it. The audacity of the filmmakers, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, to turn a middle-aged Asian immigrant woman's mediocrity into a superpower – now, that's something.
As women, we are often reminded that we must strive to be special. That's the only way we'll make it in a man's world, we're told. A woman who succeeds in life against all odds – isn't that a movie we'd watch over and over again?
But then there's Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) who reeks of failure. She is weighed down by a thousand things – from taxes and a failed laundromat to a disapproving father and a 'mess' of a daughter.
There's nothing special about her. She's like most of us – starting things she can never finish, perpetually caught in a cycle of regret.
But beyond her mundaneness, Evelyn embodies the realities of Asian immigrant women who left their home countries in search of the American dream.
The Immigrant American (Pipe) Dream
Evelyn moved to the States with her husband Waymond Wang (Ke Huy Quan) against the wishes of her father. It was a decision that would change her life in more universes than one – a mistake even, she would think, in retrospect.
The opening sequence of Everything Everywhere All at Once – tax papers lying about, paint patches on the wall, conversations in broken English, things, things, and more things everywhere – lays bare the heap that their lives had become.
And Evelyn, who was once consumed by the hopes of being a singer, is worn down by the immigrant American dream.
Her relationship with her family is no better.
She still seeks the approval of her traditionalist father – a reflection of her own tussle with the American life – and is afraid that her lesbian daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) was turning out to be a failure, just like her.
She looks at Waymond, her sweet husband, as an adversary, as someone who's only capable of messing things up with his kindness.
Even as her problems pile up like dirty clothes, Evelyn doesn't want her own dirty laundry to be aired out in the open. She lies to her father about their failing laundromat business and Joy's relationship – and she lies to herself about what her marriage has become.
But what I loved about Everything Everywhere All at Once is that it doesn't make Evelyn's problems go away in an uplifting plot twist. It's not an 'all's well that ends well' movie. It is a story of acceptance – of how things are, of how nothing matters.
And it took some mind-bending travel through the multiverse for Evelyn to realise that she's enough, that her life is enough, and that she doesn't really have to be special.
Exhausted Everywhere All at Once
Michelle Yeoh, in a recent interview with W Magazine, said her mother wasn't too pleased with Everything Everywhere All at Once – and no, it had nothing to do with the flying dildos and butt plugs!
The actor's mom thought she looked too old, frumpy, and exhausted in the film. Yeoh, who recently won the Golden Globe for Best Actress, said, "I was really worried about her seeing the sex toys that were flying around in the movie, but I guess she never noticed those. Instead, she said, 'Why do you look so old? You should look like the film where you had the ball gown on!'"
"I'm like, 'Oh my God.' But that's so typical of my mom: She wants me to run around the entire movie looking like a movie star."
As Yeoh puts it, Evelyn looks like any other "Asian immigrant who you would pass by in Chinatown and probably not notice."
And her exhaustion is all too familiar.
My mother often says she finds herself navigating through life with at least 30 tabs open in her head at any given time – focused and distracted at the same time. She says my grandmother has had it worse. Multitasking moms is a concept so glorified that it's disturbingly normal.
So, when Alpha Waymond (Waymond from an alternate universe) told Evelyn that only she can save the multiverse, and she responded, "Busy today, come back another time," I could totally imagine my mother – or any other woman – saying it.
You see, Evelyn's supposed failures in life are not a result of her doing nothing. They're probably a result of her doing everything – by herself. "We're all useless alone," she later realises.
But Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert are careful not to romanticise a 'woman who does it all'. And that's precisely why my favourite scene in the movie is Jobu Tupaki (an all-powerful Joy from an alternate universe) telling Evelyn to "just be a rock" in one of the universes, where life hasn't fully formed yet.
The idea of two women sitting still, with no tabs open in their heads, is just so disruptive.
Bagels & Identity Crises
'Immigrant paradox' has been a buzzword in academic circles for a while now. It basically refers to how immigrant children, despite the odds that they face in a different country, fare better in various indicators than the kids who were born in that country.
Joy, however, is an anomaly in the immigrant paradox – at least in her mother's eyes. She's depressed, gets tattoos, doesn't speak Mandarin well, and most importantly, she's a lesbian.
Everything Everywhere All at Once is as much Joy's struggle for acceptance as a daughter of immigrant parents as it is Evelyn's quest for a better life. Joy's inner crisis is reflected in Jobu Tupaki, her 'villainous' alpha version, who wants to purge everything in a bagel – because she feels her life really has no meaning.
This identity crisis is omnipresent in immigrant households – children seeking acceptance, parents worried about their children forgetting their roots, and their parents worried about fully losing their future to a novel culture.
Everything Everywhere All at Once captures these anxieties beautifully. It moves at 100 km/hour but it also manages to teach you a few lessons and make you shed a few tears on the way.
(This piece was originally published on 18 January 2023. It has been republished from The Quint's archives after Everything Everywhere All at Once won seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress, at the 95th Academy Awards.)