Everything Everywhere All at Once, to be known as Everything from now on, is Royals Review’s 2022 Movie of the Year! So says I, and I said it first, and now you all just have to accept it. Cool? Cool.
Everything took the world by surprise
Almost everything about Everything is surprising. The most glaring exceptions to this rule are the phenomenal performances of Michelle Yeoh, James Hong, and Jamie Lee Curtis. The thing that most surprised me when I finally saw the film months after its release to Blu-Ray, was that I got to see Ke Huy Quan act again. I had last seen him perform the role of Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I was not entirely surprised by the quality of the film - I had given in and finally agreed to watch it because it was so well-recommended - but even so, I was surprised by how good it was.
I’m not a big as most on avoiding spoilers for movies; even if I know the spoilers I can often enjoy a film regardless. However, this movie is one that I really recommend you see with as little foreknowledge as possible. It would still be good even if you know what’s coming, but it’s so, so much better if you get to experience the surprise of the twists and turns for yourself for the first time. I’m definitely glad I was able to do so!
So, with that in mind, this review is going to be split into two parts. The first part will be about what little seems acceptable to discuss without spoiling anything to encourage any of you still on the fence to go watch it while the second part will dig a bit deeper into my favorite parts of the movie for those of you who have already seen it. I will also ask those of you who wish to discuss plot points for the movie in the comments to please use the spoilers tags or else this effort will not have been worth much.
The first and most obvious thing about this movie is its cast - four of its five most important characters are Asian. The reason this is notable is because, unlike a movie like Black Panther or Crazy Rich Asians, the ethnicity of the characters isn’t of particular importance to the plot. At the start of the movie, the main cast consists of a family that owns and lives in at laundromat. A woman, her husband, her father, and her daughter. There is no reason these characters have to be Asian. And in much of cinematic history up to this point, if the ethnicity of the characters didn’t have to be non-white, then the characters have been cast as white. This movie bucks that mold.
This is something I want to see more in cinema. Don’t get me wrong, the cultural celebration movies are great, too. But seeing non-white characters in situations where their ethnicity is not a plot point is something we simply don’t get enough of. As I noted earlier, this is an All-Star cast of Asian actors; even though Stephanie Hsu - who plays the daughter - doesn’t have the movie credits of her elders she gives a standout performance and it’s not like she was entirely unknown before this. She originated a couple of roles on Broadway and featured in a recurring role on The Marvelous Ms. Maisel before breaking out in this movie. So it also feels a bit like the Dodgers bringing in Jackie Robinson; they didn’t do it because they wanted to integrate baseball, they just wanted to win and he was one of the best players in the world.
In a similar vein, the movie features a lesbian relationship without making the story about that relationship. Since we live in a world where lesbian relationships that are the focus of the story are in a diminishingly small number of movies, this is a pretty big highlight too.
And the best part is that while the movie could have used white people or straight relationships and still told an extremely similar story, by writing Asian and queer characters it gave the movie a depth it wouldn’t have otherwise had. The movie kicks off with Michelle Yeoh’s character, Evelyn, frantically trying to prepare for an audit and a New Year’s Party. During this sequence, she argues with her father and husband about various topics using both Mandarin and Cantonese. It helps frame the relationships of these characters. It immediately establishes a divide between her father and her husband as they are speaking different languages and shows how capable she is to be working with hundreds of receipts while simultaneously arguing with two other people in two other languages.
Evelyn’s relationship with her daughter is also deepened because her disapproval of Joy’s relationship becomes tinged with racist and homophobic overtones. By adding those qualities, their relationship feels more authentic and more interesting than it might have been. It also gives the characters more to overcome. In any movie with this conflict you know it’s going to be resolved somehow by the end. In a movie with all white people and heterosexual relationships, there’s very little for characters to overcome when deciding to accept the outsider. Adding in the racism and homophobia gives more for the characters to overcome. That makes them work harder. And that makes them more interesting.
The final non-spoiler thing I’ll say about the movie is that whatever you notice on your first viewing, there will be more to notice on additional viewings and even in remembering the movie afterward. This is a movie created by people with great attention to detail and they made sure to put plenty of that detail into the film for us to enjoy. Whenever there was an opportunity to give something a little bit more depth with a bit more detail, they take that opportunity. And you have to appreciate a film that will do that.
Do not continue if you haven’t seen the movie!
Alright, if you have seen the movie I want to talk about a couple of my favorite moments. If you haven’t, what are you doing here? You’re not supposed to be reading this!
The first was when Joy begins explaining about how she created the strange object that people are worshipping. She claims to have shoved “everything” into it and as the camera zooms in on it it becomes clear that it is...an everything bagel.
I literally paused the movie at that point so I could exclaim to my friend, “F***ing everything bagel.” I said it multiple times in a variety of tones. I was amused. I was amazed. I was frustrated. I was tired. I was nonplussed. Finally, I was able to accept it and continue the film. I still use that quote as a rallying cry whenever I think about the movie, though.
That could have been just a clever pun. It could have been a silly, throwaway moment that was never considered after the joke had landed. But that would have been too simple for this movie from these people.
Late in the movie as Evelyn is fighting to convince Joy to live, she turns bullets into googly eyes to avoid being shot. Googly eyes have been the symbol of her husband for the entire film. He uses them to try and bring some levity to their lives but Evelyn didn’t think she had time for such silliness. Now, suddenly, this flippant symbol of her husband has become the thing to shield her. She takes one of the googly eyes and places it in the middle of her forehead. This represents at least three things, so far as I can tell. It highlights her new acceptance of her husband’s protection and importance to her. It signals the idea that she has acquired a “third eye” to see beyond reality and can now help her daughter. Finally, it’s the opposite of her daughter’s symbol of the end of everything. The everything bagel is a perfectly black circle with a clear spot in the middle; the googly eyes are a clear circle with a black dot in the middle.
It’s just so cool to see how much symbolism can be in such a small gesture in the midst of the chaos that is the climax of the film. Not every film has to have this kind of detailed symbolism, but when a film does it needs to be called out.
The path that leads to Evelyn repairing her relationships is so much more interesting than we usually get with these stories, too. In a lot of films, Evelyn and Waymond would have broken up and then been forced to spend time together so that they could remind each other why they used to love each other. But he never stopped loving her. He was offering the divorce for her sake. And she spends relatively little time with the husband she knows in the movie, instead spending it with alternate versions who behave in similar but distinctly different ways. Eventually, she comes to the realization that her husband’s silliness has not been hampering her, but has been improving her life this entire time. And when she realizes that she realizes how important he is to her and the depth of his love for her that she had not been taking the time to recognize.
And when she realizes those things, she finally realizes how important her daughter’s relationship is for her. And she realizes that it isn’t enough to not forbid the relationship, she also needs to accept her daughter’s girlfriend and stop trying to hide it or disparage it. She realizes the importance of love and how extremely unimportant it is that the person we love and are loved by matches up with some cultural expectation. She overcomes her bigotry not by having the girlfriend earn it somehow or even by simply being convinced it’s the right thing to do. She overcomes her bigotry by realizing her bigotry is entirely pointless. Maybe that’s the path we all should have been seeking all along?
There are, of course, so many great moments in this movie. But it’s also a film that is more than the sum of its parts because of how expertly those parts are combined together. If you’ve seen the movie, I’d love to hear your thoughts about it and your favorite moments in the comments below. I just ask that you please use the spoiler tag so people who haven’t seen it yet don’t accidentally get spoiled.