Though it’s just a $25 million independent film, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” has been taking the world by storm these past few weeks. Fueled by incredibly strong word-of-mouth reviews and endorsements, this small film has vaulted itself into the top five at the box office. The film has been increasing its sales week-to-week, something rare to see at the post-pandemic box office.
The question is, why is “Everything Everywhere All at Once” such an incredible film? Why are people having such visceral reactions to the film, including deep laughter and intense tearshedding?
The answer dives a bit into spoiler territory for the film, so please do not read beyond this point if you have not seen “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”
Seriously, if you haven’t seen it, get a group of friends together and go watch this movie. Believe me, it’s worth it.
Ultimately, the film works because of the universality of its themes and its story.
Life is a complex thing. We make decisions every day, some small, some big, some informed, some rash. All these decisions culminate to create the person we choose to be. It is a natural psychological action to reflect upon these decisions, perhaps regret them, maybe just question them or look back and be proud of them.
“Everything Everywhere All at Once” dives into this deeply human characteristic of self-reflection through its plot. The film surrounds this concept entirely. It discusses the fact that there are infinite versions of you that exist that all depend on the life paths you take.
However, just this concept alone doesn’t make this film the emotional story that it is. It works because it is also centered around a character drama.
Though it has action spectacle and a sci-fi premise, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is a family drama at its core. It’s the story of generations: a mother, her father, her daughter and her husband. Each character plays a pivotal role in the narrative, and each is representative of a key theme.
The mother, Evelyn, played brilliantly by Michelle Yeoh, represents the infinite possibility of the film. Evelyn at first seems mild-mannered, perhaps a bit neurotic and inconsiderate at times, as showcased in the brilliant first 20 minutes of the film. Then as the plot takes shape, it is through the character of Evelyn that the filmmakers highlight the potential of every human. Evelyn has countless versions of herself to draw from, who all showcase incredible skill and talent. But deep down, Evelyn still feels unskilled and unworthy, just a person going through life doing laundry and doing taxes. It is her character arc throughout the film that uplifts the audience and creates a story that is fun to watch and rewatch.
Evelyn’s father, Gong Gong, played by James Hong, has a tremendous impact in this film. His character is the core of the theme of generational trauma. Evelyn is deeply affected by her relationship with her father, which is highlighted as a tense one. She is the person she is today because of the decisions that her father made, which were a reaction to the decisions that she herself made. Combine that with a complex dynamic with Evelyn and her daughter, Joy, and this film brilliantly discusses how culture and social norms change between generations, and how trauma shapes them.
Evelyn’s daughter, Joy, played by Stephanie Hsu, represents nihilism and independence in “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” Joy is an interesting character, as she changes and shifts throughout the film in more ways than one, but ultimately her character is centered around that nihilistic worldview. She believes that there is no purpose to life and that people should stop yearning for that absolution. The whole film focuses on the debate between nihilism and living a meaningful life, ultimately culminating in a message about the independence of thought of others. Evelyn can’t agree with Joy on her worldview and life decisions, but in the end she realizes she cannot control her. Joy must be the one to make her own choices in life. This independence truly hits home with the audience, as people feel more empowered to take control of their lives at the end of the picture.
Last is Evelyn’s husband, Waymond, played by Ke Huy Quan, who is representative of love and kindness in this film. Now these are general concepts. Love and kindness aren’t necessarily novel things, but this film executes them so brilliantly through the character of Waymond. He is the most unassuming of people, and he carries no pretensions in dress or demeanor, simply seeming like a happy man living a joyous life. But as the film progresses, we realize that Waymond is dealing with significant pain in his life, especially in his relationship with his wife, Evelyn. This pain has a tremendous effect on him, but he masks it. He fights it by putting on a happy face and being kind to others. The execution of this theme is beautiful, weaving in artistic shots of a Waymond from another time, lost and depressed, contradicting his prim and proper dress, with dialogue so well-written it may make you shed a tear.
The way the story weaves together these four characters’ arcs and purposes creates a story with a deep emotional core that anyone at any stage in life can connect to.
I think this story, being so universal and human, will age brilliantly. People will watch this film 20 years from now with different perspectives. Perhaps they feel more connected to Joy now, but will feel more like Evelyn or Waymond, or even Gong Gong, in the future.
Combine this incredibly well-told story with unbelievable action, an insane sci-fi premise and some brilliant comedy, and “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is a spectacle that must be seen.
It’s a film about life. It’s a film about love.
It’s a film about what it means to be human.