If I hadn’t just checked whether or not Everything Everywhere All At Once had been made by Netflix, I would have thought it was made by Netflix. I guess that’s a loaded statement if there has ever been one, so what do I mean?
EEAAO is a science-fiction action-comedy that’s just plain weird. And Netflix loves its weird esoteric sci-fi and usually scuffs it up by making the endings insane and vague. That’s why I don’t watch them anymore.
However, I saw that EEAAO was being praised, and I thought, why not? To my surprise, EEAAO is fun, full of heart, creative, and has a surprisingly satisfying ending – which was what tipped me that it couldn’t be a Netflix film. Well, it was made by A24. Ha!
EEAAO follows the life of Evelyn Wang, a Chinese immigrant struggling to make a life in America with her well-meaning but simple husband Waymond, her depressed, gay daughter Joy, and her miserable old father, Gong Gong (yes, that’s his name, I swear).
The movie opens with Evylin and Waymond going to the IRS to file taxes for their laundromat (too much money spent at FairGo casino USA, I guess, and who can blame them?). This sequence does a brilliant job introducing all the main characters too. Evelyn, the tiger-mom struggling under the pressure of living up to her father’s expectations and the financial needs of her family. Waymond, who isn’t all that bright but longs for a better relationship with Evelyn. Joy, meanwhile, just wants her mom to accept her and to stop feeling like a failure. Gong Gong… um, is a miserable old git.
Evelyn’s life changes forever when Waymond’s personality shifts entirely to become a serious, take-no-nonsense kung-fu supersoldier. He informs Evelyn that an Evelyn from another parallel universe invented a way to download traits and abilities from other Universes. Waymond gives our Evelyn access to these devices and tells her that the way to connect to another universe is to perform specific, random actions.
To get specific powers, you might have to eat gum from underneath a desk, stick a trophy up your butt, or tell someone “I love you” and mean it. This creates some harrowing moments when a character needs to get some specific ability, but the task to reach it is difficult or painful.
The real danger arrives when Waymond reveals that an entity known as Jobu Tupaki is traveling through the multiverse, murdering and rampaging, and nothing can stop it. This entity experiences all of its parallel versions simultaneously, which basically gives it god-like powers.
And maybe Star Wars has started a trend here, but there’s this awesome hallway scene that perfectly encapsulates just how insanely powerful and dangerous Jobu Tupaki is. What is with villains in hallways just doing their thing that’s so cool?
The bottom line is that our Evelyn, by virtue of having made every terrible choice in her life that she possibly could, has the potential to do anything because she’s so bad at everything. She can access powers more easily than others and quickly begins to swap out powers… while seeing various versions of herself where, if she had made different choices, how she would have ended up.
This movie deals with a lot of themes that you are likely forced to read about in high school. The Immigration story, the generational gap, the struggling family (both emotionally and financially), and parental expectations.
Evelyn hates her life. Waymond wants to fix his marriage but doesn’t know how. Joy is being pushed into a well of nihilism and despair, and no one is noticing. And Gong Gong, the impossible to please father, is the cause of many of the family’s problems.
Honestly, I was not expecting the fight choreography of this movie to be as good as it is. It has no right to be like a Jackie Chan movie, combined with universe bending powers, and still, somehow, make coherent sense. There is no super-fast jump cut, shaky-cam fights. Each fight is able to show with clear intent what each character is trying to do, like when Evelyn is pulling all stops to prevent someone from gaining a new set of powers. It’s so refreshing and such a delight to watch.
The Multiverse Shenanigans
What I think really makes EEAAO, however, is the sheer creativity on display. I have yet to see the new Doctor Strange, but one of the complaints I heard is that it doesn’t take advantage of being to do anything with the multiverse stuff. EEAAO does NOT have that problem, with characters jumping between universes that can be as similar as just wearing a different set of clothes to being as different as people with hotdogs instead of fingers.
EEAAO allows itself to go buck wild with its crazy ideas, which only further helps support one of its underlying themes: If anything can happen, does it really matter what happens? What’s the point of making any decision, caring about anyone or anything, if, in another parallel universe, the consequences of any action did or did not happen? Or a choice had never needed to be made in the first place?
I think this is one of the things that makes EEAAO stand out in my mind. There aren’t many films that try to tackle a subject like nihilism so head-on. Or, if they do, they’re written by nihilistic dimwits who just want to watch the world burn. For reference, compare Star Trek: Discovery to Star Trek: The Next Generation.
EEAAO takes the firm stance that nihilism is bad, and there are reasons worth sticking around for. You DO matter, regardless of how insignificant you feel compared to the rest of the world, universe, or multiverse.
The little things in life matter as much as the big things. You might not be a multiversal kung-fu ninja. You might just be an average person living in a small house. You may even be struggling in a little laundromat. That doesn’t matter. You do. Your family does. The people in your life, even the ones you don’t like all that much, matter. And that’s the wonderful message of this crazy movie, otherwise known as EEAAO.