As we say goodbye to 2022, I want to pay respects to a film that I believe is the best film of 2022 by far. Everything Everywhere All At Once was a pleasant surprise to this year. It smoked other standout films of the year I watched, like Black Adam, Top Gun: Maverick, and Avatar 2. In fact, I think it’s a masterpiece that’ll last for decades as a favorite. So, let me explain to you why.
First, there may be some spoilers. And yes, I know this is just my opinion. However, I rarely write movie reviews, so you can tell this means a lot to me.
The first standout difference in this film is its relatable, authentic Chinese American dialogue. The film touches on classic generational immigrant problems as the American children clash with their parent’s culture. It’s not just the dialogue; the mannerisms, behavior, outfits, and environment of the characters also hit the nail on the head on how a Chinese immigrant lives and behaves. A respectable portion of the dialogue is in Mandarin and Cantonese, which is delightful and something I can understand. I don’t think there’s a language barrier for those who can’t speak these languages since there’s subtitles and I’ve seen many positive reviews from people who can’t speak the tongue. I liken it to Slumdog Millionaire or Squid Game, which were also in different languages, yet I thoroughly enjoyed them nonetheless through subtitles.
The amount of the culture that was layered on this movie was noticeable yet subtle. It seemed to be there, but not take over the film, unlike Ms. Marvel, which almost beat you over the head with the woke culture and politics of the characters.
What I’m trying to say is that it was so refreshing to see something done right. My most common gripe with movies is that the dialogue, plot, interactions, background, or something about the movie just feels feigned, fake, illogical, or staged. The flow of the acting, lines, story, everything just made sense. And then when things did get ridiculous, the film had already set it up and prepared the viewer so that you were expecting some silly humor (e.g., the scene with two people fighting with dildos up their bums).
The problems and discussions they had, such as discussing divorce, running a struggling laundry business, trying to maintain Chinese culture, dealing with an Americanized kid, seemed so authentic and dare I say universal or at least widely understood.
As someone who understands the culture and language, there were a couple “inside jokes” that were direct examples of how my own Asian mom or others like her would exactly act that made me laugh out loud. This spoke to a thorough understanding of the character and culture. For example, Evelyn, the main character, mutters under her breath in a disapproving way what can be translated as “this guy’s got a mental illness” in the exact tone that my mom or another Asian of her generation would when placed in the same situation if their husband started spouting nonsense about coming from the multiverse. In fact, I don’t think this little easter egg was even subtitled.
Extreme Originality + Exceptional Editing
The film immediately reminded me of the feeling I had when The Matrix first came out and I watched it when I was a kid. There was gut feeling of how original the story and idea was. And sure enough, years later, no one has come up with something close to the concept of what The Matrix had.
I came to find that the Directors were a big fan of kung fu and The Matrix, so they definitely drew inspiration from there. The film blends various genres together in a new way, including comedy, epic, action, adventure, sci-fi, and 2D & 3D films. Thanks to the multiverse being involved, they’re able to create some very unique, bizarre edits that just work and stand out.
There’s moments when the main antagonist Juju Tupaki does some really cool stuff since she is essentially all-powerful and can jump between any universe. With her Cool/I-Don’t-Care personality, Juju does this slow head snap and you see her jump through four universes in a couple seconds in different costumes holding a similar pose for different reasons. It’s little moments like this where you can tell they went all out to make this film seamless. There’s another scene with Evelyn phasing through what seems like a hundred different iterations of her with the same facial pose, almost like a speed shot of a NFT project. I can only imagine the time that goes into that.
Because of all the fun, unique scenarios that Evelyn finds herself in where she’s juggling two bodies in two universes at the same time, there’s some really cool moments where they film and edit a scene to show one interruption from one universe distracting her in another.
The film even gets into some comical universes, such as a 2d drawing universe, a universe where humans have hot dogs for fingers, and a universe where they’re rocks.
Universal, Heart-Touching Themes
The film touches on some popular philosophical topics and their arguments against them. It gets deep. It also touches on some simpler, universal themes that will warm your heart.
Juju Tubaki, a seemingly evil multi-verse version of Evelyn’s daughter Joy, represents nihilism. She’s given up on life. She’s lost a sense of morality, willing to kill or do anything, because she can see, access, and manipulate all of the infinite universes at the same time. Since there are so many universes, everything possible bizarre thing you can fathom exists, so one universe to her is expendable. She’s overwhelmed by all of this and concludes that nothing really matters. There’s always another universe to replace one. Is this really true? Read on to find out.
Towards the end of the movie, don’t be surprised when you start to feel like you want to cry. The build up of the story, characters, motivations, struggles, and actions all come to a climax when you find out that everything comes down to pure, simple, but meaningful human motives. Evelyn loves her daughter so much that she’s willing to accept her for whoever she is and she’s always going to be there for her no matter what. This is a theme that most mothers can understand, and you really see her go through it to demonstrate that. The moment the movie climaxes is when she expresses this right before Juju is about to end her life to try to stop the overwhelm; the music, build up, jump cuts, everything is done in such a splendid way that makes you want to burst into tears.
Waymond, her husband, has always remained optimistic, upbeat, trying to make things work, using his “niceness” as his way of fighting, begging everyone to just be nice, especially when they’re scared, confused, and don’t know what’s going on. Through the multiverse, you discover a rich version of him who reveals that he cares for Evelyn and would rather be happy and stay with her working on a struggling laundry business than be rich. This also tugged a lot at my heart strings. I think a lot of people can relate to knowing or being the family who is working a seemingly dead-end, small business for the rest of their life, struggling to make ends meet financially yet still maintaining an upbeat, happy mood. His own attitude of life really reminded me that it’s not all about the money, fame, and success. The scene with Evelyn and Waymond eagerly promoting a small, free Chinese New Year party with free food at their struggling local laundry business seemed so depressing to me because that just seems like one of the most boring, dead-end paths of life to me, something I’ve always been scared of and wanting to avoid. To realize that they can still find joy there, changed how I felt about external success.
Waymond is the true “light” of these three main characters. Through Waymond, Evelyn decides on her way of thinking. Initially enticed by Juju’s nihilistic views, she decides that there is meaning in every moment, even small moments with her Joy in just one universe. She decides to derive her own meaning to life as she lives it.
(For those who aren’t familiar: Nihilism is the belief that life has no meaning or purpose. Some people who believe in nihilism might say that nothing we do matters and that there is no point in trying to be good or do good things.
There are a few different counterarguments to nihilism. One counterargument is that people give their own lives meaning by the things they do and the goals they set for themselves. For example, a person might find meaning in their life by being a kind and helpful person, or by working to achieve a goal like becoming a doctor or an astronaut. Even if life doesn’t have some grand, universal meaning, we can still find happiness and fulfillment in the small, everyday things that we do and the people we share our lives with.)
While I’m sure this just scratches the surface of what philosophers debate, it’s a strong introduction to key concepts that really get a lot of the audience to think and come out of it in a positive way. I watched one viral YouTube video discussing this film, and the creator admits that others get their meaning from religion, and he isn’t religious, so the film helped him think about how he derived meaning in his own ways, which he fully believes is possible and can be positive.
Speaking of these three main characters, the casting for each couldn’t have been more perfect.
Michelle Yeoh is a legend and plays this role of the fresh of the boat Asian mom perfectly. In fact, it’s my favorite role I’ve seen her play, and I think she deserves a lot of awards for it. The potential of the multiverse characters lets her spread her wings into other character portrayals since she has a wide breadth of what she can play, which she does well. Some of the dialogue and acting was just so spot on and funny! It speaks to a deep understanding of the type of character that Evelyn is and how she would act. When she’s given the opportunity to live up to her ultimate potential or crawl up into a ball and live with the consequences so far, Evelyn immediately chooses the latter. When she’s offered to take a chance to save the multiverse, she answers in her Chinese accent that she’s too busy and has no time. Michelle actually has more of a British English accent, not a fobby accent, so you can tell she made sure to really study and nail this character.
I heard Jackie Chan was initially planned to take this role, and I think the movie would’ve been infinitely worse if he was the main role. There’s a multi-dimensionality to having the Asian mom as the main character, Jackie already comes with a lot of pre-determined, limited mannerisms you’d expect, and Michelle adds a greater breadth of acting ability with her ability to play various roles.
Ke Huy Quan who plays Waymond deserves a lot of praise as well. This is his first return to the screen in over twenty years, so he had to really relearn things and dust off the old acting skills. From an interview with Michelle, I learned he really did a lot to nail this. As a perfectionist, he wanted to do everything flawlessly, so he hired a voice coach, body language coach, and speech coach. He also had to jump between three different multi-verse versions of himself, so his body language coach created different animals to represent each for him. I only know this actor from when he was a little kid and was the side kick of Indiana Jones; that was one of my favorite side characters in that film series. I’m so happy he was chosen! He did a great job.
The costume department also gets a big thumbs up from me for dressing Michelle and Ke. They played all sorts of roles in the multi-verse from rich businessman and famous actress to two poor immigrants to America running a laundromat. The outfits were spot on. I saw Evelynn walking around the laundromat, and I thought, “That’s spot on. That’s what an Asian mom would wear. That’s how her hair would be. That’s how she’d look without make up on a typical day.”
Finally, Stephanie Hsu who plays Juju and Joy deserves a lot of credit. In fact, I don’t know if the movie would have hit if these three roles weren’t cast as perfectly as they are. Stephanie as Juju was such a treat. As Joy, you see the typical Asian American frustration; that’s something someone else could’ve done. Yet when she played the all-knowing, all-powerful, nihilistic Juju, it was such a personality that just made sense, fit her, and contrasted so well against Joy. Juju had a certain glammer to her with her outfits and tone of voice, but also a feminine drawl that implied that she had seen too much, felt too much, didn’t care about anything anymore, and could do anything. It just worked. You felt it, and you believed it. One of the best scenes to illustrate this is when she describes the “black hole donut” she created and the thought process that led to her concluding that nothing matters. The acting is so authentic, and you can tell this person’s just seen too much and has given up.
I can talk about this film for a lot longer, and I’ll end it here because I think I’ve got my main points out.
Is it perfect? No. If you really examine it, the plot or feasibility becomes nonsensical. How do you put everything, including all knowledge in the multiverse, onto a physical bagel? If you have access to all knowledge, shouldn’t you already be familiar with common counterarguments against nihilism and possibly be swayed to a different direction sooner than when Evelyn points them out to you? Is it really an infinite amount of variations of her that exist or would that amount eventually approach a finite number because of the limited amount of ways someone could be different? Is an ear piece that can really steal the skills of another version of you possible or how it would be done? If the premise is that multiverses form when you make different decisions, is that really reasonable to say that different decisions can compound into a universe where your fingers are hot dogs or any of those other bizarre universes?
While these thoughts did come up, I didn’t let that affect my enjoyment of the movie. Unlike other films like Tenet, the film somehow prepared the viewer so that you were okay when it got over the top and you intuitively suspended disbelief to enjoy the ride.
Simply put, I loved the film because I could relate to it more than other films, the unique culture and ideas in the film created some very enjoyable sci-fi storylines, and along the way, it introduced some deep ideas about the meaning of life, love, and happiness. I started the film expecting a semi-decent action multi-verse adventure, partially there to support an Asian actor as the lead in an American film. I came out of it blown away, finding out the film was the most unique blend of originality, art, sci-fi, comedy, Asian American themes, philosophy, and love/happiness. I didn’t cry because I never do, but I got close.
Will you have the same heart-throbbing, relatable reaction to the film? I’m not sure. Maybe. Maybe not. What I can say is that you’re in for an enjoyable adventure. And I’m not just going to walk away from this film with a lot for the entertainment, but some meaningful thoughts on how to live a happy, meaningful life as it related to loved ones, external successes, and myself. I’m not saying I’ll be content running a dead-end laundromat; I’ll still probably aim for a career that excites me. However, I will focus more on the contentment and well-being that I can have now even if I haven’t made it. In my own life, I have met people who can be so happy and have a meaningful relationships even if their lives aren’t extraordinary; a simple trip to a restaurant or museum could be a bundle of laughter and fun. I long for that, and it should be cherished.
I hope they make a sequel even if it’s likely it won’t be as good as the first (building onto an existing story is always hard). And I’ll keep an eye out for these directors and actors; I hope they do something together again since I’m sure it’ll be a hit! For a budget film made from $15 million, Everything Everywhere gets 5 out of 5 stars from me.