Life is confusing. As a species, humans desperately try to navigate the fields of life. As our hands brush against the leaves, the residue from the fruits of regret leaves their mark on our skin. Everything, Everywhere, All At Once throws virtually every bizarre bit of nonsensical insanity at its audience everywhere, all at once. The overwhelming nature of the film is jumbling to the mind and intentionally so.
Evelyn Wang’s (Michelle Yeo) life is far from glamorous. She operates a local laundromat as a family business. Evelyn’s daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) is in a lesbian relationship. Attempting to shield her daughter from rejection, Evelyn disguises Joy’s girlfriend from her father, whose generation likely doesn’t accept homosexuality. What could have been a promising life filled with opportunity is shaded with regret. The walls resting above Evelyn’s head are the same in her laundromat. Cramped in their tiny quarters, the Wangs make do with what they have while barely able to scrape by.
Things don’t take long to kick into high gear. On the elevator to visit her tax auditor, Evelyn’s geeky husband (played wonderfully by Key Huy Quan) suddenly turns into an interdimensional badass. Mr. Wang informs Mrs. Wang that she’s the chosen one, sent to disseminate an evil spirit that’s disrupting the balance of the multiverse, or at least I think that’s what was going on? Whatever the central conflict is, it doesn’t matter as the film’s core is centered around dealing with disappointment.
Across the multiverse, Evelyn’s life branches different paths. She’s a kung fu artist, a world-famous actress, sausage-fingered (you read that correctly), and a rock. Most of the multiverse Evelyn’s contain far more prestige than a broke laundromat owner. With the influence that Neo gets in the Matrix, soon Evelyn does whatever weird shit she can to fend off the foes attempting to thwart her. Of course, Evelyn’s greatest opponent is her guilt. Guilt for not marrying a with greater aspirations, guilt for not pursuing her dreams, and guilt for how hard she is on her daughter. Every decision Evelyn made in her life has only led to more heartache with nothing left in her soul but defeat.
Everything, Everywhere, All At Once is confusing and designed to be so. The completely bonkers multidimensional adventure Evelyn partakes in assault of the senses that hardly lets up through the film’s entirety. I would expect nothing less than utter insanity from co-directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. The last film they made featured The Ridler using Harry Potter’s farting corpse as a wave runner. Evelyn has no idea what’s happening but discovers the meaning behind the madness by the movie’s conclusion. Self-love.
Evelyn can’t learn to be a good mother to her daughter or a loving wife to her husband without appreciating herself. After years of letdown, Evelyn becomes an embittered woman, continually abused by a system that wants to keep the immigrants of America on the lower end of the totem pole for all eternity. Rather than defending herself against those who hurt her, she lashes out at her family.
Despite wanting to do nothing but the right thing for them, Evelyn can’t help but hurt them, when in reality, she’s only trying not to hurt herself. Evelyn’s afraid of what her father thinks of her. Trying to win his approval, she alienates herself from her family. Even her old man, who may be open-minded towards his granddaughter’s sexuality, if given a chance to see that it makes her happy. But Evelyn can’t know how to improve her life until she can learn to stop beating herself up.
EEAAO’s zaniness has intentionality to it that’s resonant. Too often, I see movies about someone poor who becomes rich; thus, the audience is supposed to be pleased with their fortune. According to most cinema, the capitalistic viewpoint of economic wealth compiled with family is the key to happiness. Daniels challenges this idea by making a film about a woman learning to appreciate what she has, even if it’s not much. Furthermore, most films’ resolution centers on the parent learning to accept their child for who they are. To a degree, that’s the case here with Joy’s sexual preference. Yet, it’s not the treatment of the daughter per se that’s important, as much as Evelyn’s path towards accepting oneself, flaws and all.
The themes EEAAO tackles are ambitious. It is not only about reflection/healing, but the human specie’s natural behavior. We attach material value and family traditions over happiness because what we think will make us happy is only short-lived. Fearing to embrace who we are, humans live in fear. With fear comes resentment. Resentment breeds rage, which enacts destruction; humanity’s inability to be in touch with their rationale leads the majority of civilization towards the brink of annihilation until we’re nothing but rock. However, we can prevent apocalypse if generosity is more evenly distributed. When one finds inner peace, that individual will be able to treat others with the utmost respect.