Everything, Everywhere, All at Once
Yesterday when I was working in the O.R., I was asked to explain the plot of the movie "Everything, Everywhere, All at Once," in one sentence.
Fifteen run-on sentences later, I still hadn't really gotten to the gist of it. Finally, when pressed (surgeons don't have time for my mess), I pared it down to this: "It's about figuring out that there were a million possibilities for you and your life and you can be a bit of all of them no matter which one path you chose. (Well, not ALL of them, you'll probably never actually have hot dogs for fingers or murder someone in an explosion of glitter) AND it's about finding gratitude in where you are and healing from what's hurt you so you don't hurt others the same way...and also it's about paying taxes. And butt plugs."
This movie is hard to explain because it's WEIRD and complicated. It's emotional and funny, too, but primarily, it's quirky and weird. I'd seen the previews and had an inkling that this would be a bizarre film, but when everyone kept talking about how they were openly weeping by the end of it, I assumed it must be more traditional comedy-drama and less weirdness.
It's ALL those things simultaneously (everything, everywhere, all at once), but primarily- weird.
If you google to find a list of similar movies, you'll find action movies with metaverse stories like some of the recent Spidermans and Dr. Strange. Also, it very much draws from The Matrix and other avatar-driven action movies (though NOT the Avatar movies, thank God), maybe some Being John Malkovich? Sideways? A Christmas Carol? It honored a lot of kung fu movies, obviously, considering it stars kung fu masters, Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Crazy Rich Asians) and Ke Hu Quan (Goonies, Indiana Jones) as the main couple. It also gave silly, funny action movie energy like Scott Pilgrim Vs the World or Fifth Element, and creative, earnest energy like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
My favorite take is this: "It’s like The Matrix filtered through the demented mind prism of the guys who made Swiss Army Man." And like that farting corpse movie, you'll rotate between thinking, "This is SO dumb," and, "Thisbreaking my heart."
The general story (with spoilers) is that a couple married young and after leaving China- against the wife's father's wishes- they settled in the U.S. and bought a laundromat, which they've been running for decades while raising their daughter- who is now college age (played by the fabulous Stephanie Hsu (The Marvelous Mrs Maisel). The husband is a sweet and happy guy, always trying to add a bit of goof and lightness to their lives, but he's lonely in his marriage and reluctantly has drafted divorce papers. The daughter is in a healthy long-term relationship with a woman and seems like she is overall doing well outside of her relationship with her mom- who is fretful and critical in all their interactions. We know through the course of the movie that she's actually pretty depressed/potentially suicidal and struggling to find the meaning of anything.
The wife is anxious and miserable all the time, especially when the movie opens, as the business/couple is in trouble for not paying their taxes - she has been trying to write off a lot of hobbies/interests as business expenses and they're being audited by Jamie Lee Curtis's IRS agent. Also, her cold, judgmental father is visiting and she can't do/be enough for him. Shit goes off the rails almost immediately when alternative versions of the husband, daughter, and IRS agent show up and start (continue) battling. Turns out the wife is "the chosen one" (ala Neo, Harry Potter, Jesus) and now she can harness other versions of herself (martial artist, goofball, lover, etc).
It may be that watching it across four of five sittings (that's just how my life goes right now) impacted how I experienced it, but I found the weirdness definitely trumped any emotional response I had to it. The mother-daughter relationship is pretty on the nose for some. One Chinese-American viewer I know said she had trouble watching it. I found the woman relatable- getting lost in shame and responsibility but somewhere DEEP in her subconscious there's creativity, power, joy, options....I felt that. Also, I really felt the marriage where the husband just wants to be seen and loved and playful and the wife is too bogged down in her anxiety and self-loathing to show up.
The end is satisfying. All of it is weird and fun. It gets just wildly strange in some moments. The performances are excellent. It's up for ALL the awards this Oscar season and I'm glad that quirky, funny, thoughtful, non-white dominant movies are getting recognized. That acknowledgement gives me hope for art and the movie just gave me hope in general.