Everything Everywhere All at Once:
The Oscar Winner the System Loves
I finally saw this year’s Oscar winner for Best Picture, Everything Everywhere All at Once, by directing duo Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, and enjoyed the film. Like many of you , I think it’s a shame Tár didn’t win, and note that The Banshees of Inisherin also didn’t win — but I think many of you are glad about that. Nevertheless, Everything Everywhere All at Once hits all the bases for this year’s woke base — but it’s also a fun movie, very fast-paced and a visual delight.
The story is about Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), a laundromat owner who is having trouble with taxes; Waymond (Ke Huy Quan — is “Waymond” a real Chinese name? It sounds like “kill the wabbit”), her husband, who wants to divorce her; and Joy (Stephanie Hsu), her pudgy daughter who’s come out as a lesbian. Then we meet the officious Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis, in a hair helmet from hell) when they make a trip to the local Internal Revenue Service (IRS) office. She is a mendacious bureaucrat who leads Evelyn into a wild, wacky counter-universe where Waymond turns into a Jackie Chan-like super agent; Joy is an evil, sinister foe; Deirdre is a raging super-monster (but isn’t that already what the IRS is?); and Evelyn is made aware of a multiverse of possibilities her life could take if she only applied herself as we get scenes showing her in everything from a film career to Chinese martial arts to a weird universe where everyone has hot-dog fingers. (It’s as dangerous for fingers here, as in The Banshees of Inisherin, but at least here you get mustard). There are as many universes as there are menu items at a Chinese restaurant. It is very entertaining.
But what else? The plot then delves into the multiverse, and the screenwriters load up the dialogue with mumbo-jumbo about quantum physics — which I think is our age’s answer to alchemy; in effect, the vulgarization of Einstein’s theories. When one scrapes away all the special effects, brilliant acting, quick cuts, and wacky scenes (and much of the film, as with many Chinese martial arts films, is simply silly), what do we have?
It is essentially a family movie. Some conservatives have defended it: “Yes, it’s about family! It’s about immigrants! Hard-working immigrants. Presumably ones who will, of course, gladly vote GOP and save America if the right true conservative candidate comes along.”
Regardless, the essential plot centers on the fact that Evelyn’s emotional problems stem from her not accepting that her daughter is a lesbian. Evelyn simply isn’t with the times, and so must become accepting. Throughout the film Joy appears as an evil villainess, strutting around in wonderfully fantastic costumes, reciting the usual vampy nihilistic dialogue one gets in graphic novels and Marvel comics, but the end solution is acceptance. Evelyn even goes nuts and breaks a window at her laundromat, learns to vape from Deirdre, and so on — and eventually, everyone learns to just become more accepting.
And really, that’s what the last century has been about: a war on the family and middle-class values. Gay acceptance is part of that, and Everything Everywhere All at Once does its duty to package the theme in a form where it could become an Oscar-winner — because gay is always in. That’s certainly what The Whale was all about. And, of course, the main characters are non-white. That’s definitely in as well, as the media and the establishment works to make us less white. Movies about black people they don’t have the same power to draw, whether it is Moonlight (2016) or the solemn praise for Wakanda, which mostly got a laugh. We wuz kangs! Asians, however, are semi-white, and can be more effectively used to sell the product.
It’s interesting that the mother and daughter never really come together. Joy is always sarcastic and nasty; she is also consistently pudgy, which seems a realistic depiction of lesbian life. Her lesbian lover isn’t all that attractive, either, but at least Evelyn reconciles with Joy, “accepts” her, and tells Joy that she needs to lose some weight.
Well, that’s something.
Evelyn learns that by being narrow-minded, all of her multiverse lives are stunted. Ah, the multiverse. All of those parallel universes, like millions of stars out there, each with their own worlds . . . yet, we understand that this life is all we’ve got. We won’t suddenly fly off to a better, sexier life somewhere else through some wormhole. Right here, right now is all we’ve got. It’s what we have to deal with — these somewhat marked cards on the table. But this would make for a very dour film . . . or a hopelessly mundane one, at least by the Academy’s standards. Dealing with life as it is, with no special effects, would be a very adult thing to do — and adult is very much out of fashion nowadays.
If the film is any gauge of where we are as a society, it’s that the Chinese are moving into pop culture, usurping a Hollywood that seems as stale and devoid of ideas as Classical culture was in the fourth century — when it simply expired. Since the comic-book movie seems to be sputtering out, the next big medium to exploit is video games, and this film is very much in that genre.
I saw many similarities with Bardo in its visual excellence and pacing, although Alejandro Inarritu was dealing with United States-Mexico relations. But like Birdman, another Oscar winner, Everything Everywhere All at Once dazzles. It is, in the final analysis, mere entertainment.
I can’t wait for next year’s Oscar winner, which will probably be about a tortured trans who is forced to vent out — its — frustrations, no doubt with lots of multiverse special effects. I hope they give it to another Chinese director. At least they might make it exciting, and not just the usual sermon that Hollywood gives us.
As Gore Vidal said, in literary America, to be serious is to be solemn, and moviegoers never like to be lectured to, especially when it comes to the eventual triumph of trans over . . . normality. But film is always in conflict with real life. So let’s at least make that trans film colorful and fast-paced as the meltdown continues — and reality, like the ruffian on the stair, waits.
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