Everything Everywhere All at Once, directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Sheinert, was released back in May 2022. The genre-merging, fantastical film has recently been nominated for no less than 11 Oscars.
The film has been nominated for Best Picture, Costume Design, Production Design, Editing, Original Song, Original Score, Original Screenplay, as well as Best Director(s). The cast has also received nominations for Best Actress (Michelle Yeoh), Best Supporting actor (Ke Huy Quan), and Best Supporting Actress (both Jamie Lee Curtis and Stephanie Hsu).
It’s no surprise that the cast received so many nominations; Michelle Yeoh manages to convey the troubles of motherhood and the immigrant experience while jumping between hundreds of alternate universes. Stephanie Hsu also perfects the representation of an existential twenty-something lesbian who can see no way out of her pessimism, all while wearing the most bizarre yet extraordinary outfits. Jamie Lee Curtis ranges from a tax auditor to an enraged possessed alien, yet also represents the difficulties of aging as a single woman in a patriarchal society.
However, I will say that Everything Everywhere All at Once is a film for people who can enjoy a film without an initially clear direction. The movie follows a very perplexing storyline where a laundromat owner, Evelyn, is approached and introduced to the existence of alternate universes and universe shifting.
The structure of the plot is superficially simple: Evelyn must combat an evil force who has constructed a black hole that can be shifted between universes, which poses a threat to humanity and life in all universes. However, the black hole is represented by an Everything bagel, the pun being that the bagel/black hole really does contain everything. Equally, to shift realities, the individual must do something shocking or surprising, which created some unexpectedly outrageous scenes. The film is therefore undeniably perplexing.
If you’re looking for a plot-dense, direct film, maybe this isn’t for you. It contains maybe a whole hour of unexplained universe-shifting, if you don’t make it past this, the entire movie will make no sense. If you’re not a film fanatic and are looking for an easy, family-friendly watch, then this film requires a huge amount of patience. However, once you get past this apparent aimlessness of part one, labelled “everything”, the rest of the film suddenly contextualises and justifies the confusion.
Parts two and three, “everywhere” and “all at once”, is where the film suddenly became beautiful. The confusion develops meaning, as the wider concept of the film is revealed: the importance of relationships in the face of existentialism.
Evelyn sacrifices her sanity and life by overloading her brain and entering all universes to protect her daughter, Joy. While their relationship is tumultuous, Joy ultimately only wants empathy and unconditional love from someone who can understand her nihilism.
The movie expertly introduces an emphasis on kindness, which provides the resolution. The quote “when I choose to see the good side of things, I’m not being naïve. It is strategic and necessary” also undoes the existentialist tones, but not in a way that undermines the film, but instead, the film’s chaos and confusion reach a resolution which has been ignored by many viewers.
The use of love, even when comedic, comments on a very current issue of the dividing powers of existentialism, and how loving one another is an active choice. Indeed, the love that Evelyn also holds for Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis) is both comedic but also healing to watch.
The film is magically put together, in fact if you pressed pause at any point of this movie, a wide shot could be used as a screen saver. It is a cinematic visual masterpiece. My favourite universe visually must be where life never formed, and Evelyn and Joy sit side by side as rocks, looking out into a mountainous Colorado desert.
When compared to the assaulting, overwhelming use of colour and light in the neighbouring scenes, the silence and simplicity of such a wide and still shot, with only subtitles, is a well-deserved and refreshing break from the onslaught of the rest of the film. This simplistic shot is also the introduction to existentialism and isolation, seeing how insignificant the two characters are, even when the neighbouring scenes are demanding and overstimulating.
The silent visual of two rocks, sat side by side, overlooking an expanse of natural power and desertion, with the captions ‘ha ha ha ha ha’ brings about an almost emotional solidarity. While only two rocks who cannot speak, or at this point move, the love felt between a mother and daughter is palpable.
It is true that this film is not an easy watch, and it takes over an hour of confusion to find the core of the plot, but quite frankly, even without the strong themes of the American dream, mother-daughter relationships, homophobia, and unconditional love, the film is still a fantastic watch. In the same way that Charlie Kauffman’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind seems to lack direction for much of the film, the conclusion and revelation of the underlying themes makes it an instant classic.
In a time when films are becoming more and more candid, with total transparency in narration, and plots that become increasingly winding, this movie, especially in its categories in the Oscars, is refreshingly far removed.
So, which Oscars does this film deserve? While it is in for a good chance in all its categories, I believe that the editing of this film’s shifting and co-existence of realities is unparalleled, especially with its filming techniques and insertion of CGI and other special effects. Similarly, the design and costumes of this film are insane yet fitting.
While they lack the historical and personal points of films such as Banshees of Insherin, the costumes were undeniably experimental and extensive. Each different universe had entire wardrobe changes that fitted the similarly eclectic narratives. The film’s originality and incresdile camerawork makes it well deserving of both Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, and Ke Huy Quan have delivered some of the best performances that I have seen.
Out of every accolade that the film has been put in for, it deserves nearly every single one. While Everything Everywhere All at Once may not be loved by all because of its limitlessness and experimentalism, it’s the most unique film the Academy has nominated in recent years.
The acting, effects, and visuals of the scenes keep the viewer entirely transfixed until an emotional and somewhat euphoric conclusion. If you do watch this film, give it the time it deserves, and be ready for an overstimulating onslaught of both the senses but also your emotions.
Witty, absurd, moving, gratifying, and visually perfect – it’s a must see.
Everything Everywhere All At Once is currently available to stream on Prime Video.
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