Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Everything Watch: Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022)

Watched:  09/24/2022
Format:  Amazon Streaming
Viewing:  First
Directors:  Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert

Look, one would really need to watch this movie 2-3 times and plan on several thousand words to really talk about Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022).  Suffice to say, this movie was very, very much in the wheelhouse for a lot of us, and if it was nominated for - and then won - awards, I might have respect for the awarding industry and begin to believe that it actually recognizes what cinema can do.

I am painfully and tragically aware that some will watch the movie and say "oh, they were trying too hard" or "that was just weird for weird's sake".  And, if that is your takeaway, I wish you well on your journey through life.  Sadly, you and I are going to view this rock we live on, and our time here, with wildly different eyes.

Everything Everywhere All at Once will be one of the films that I'm going to hold close, because we don't get them very often.  Whether you think the movie is saying something new - and, arguably, it is not - it is saying it beautifully, artfully, and humanely.  And maybe when we need it most.  

Sci-Fi and fantasy always are at their best when they are  allegories which may reflect, shift or challenge our views.  And whether we're considering response to a technological change and vast societal ripples or deeply personal stories, the closer we hew to recognizable reality, the greater the impact.  There's a reason we well up as Spock makes a sacrifice for the crew - it's a statement on the logic of serving the greater good, not on the problems of a made-up warp-core technology.  But it's a lesson forgotten again and again in comic books, television and movies, which become about the concepts and less about what it says to the audience about the world or themselves.  


Despite it's basis in theoretical science, comics logic and goofy on-screen technology, Everything Everywhere All At Once is a film about specific family - which allows it to dive in close to some truths about family - feels revelatory in its universal application.  Jacqueline Woodson would be proud.  We don't even need to have a mother to understand the complexities of close, familial relationships and that they can fail us.  And we don't need to be a Chinese-American Lesbian in our twenties to understand what it is to feel yourself drifting from your family and the world.

A lesser movie would hint that the events of the film were all in a single character's mind, but instead we have the film's permission to dream bigger.  This is real and this is happening.  And we do it by carving our way through the set-up of family, of inexplicable cosmic events, and finally getting to the bagel at the middle of it all.

It's a movie that understands one doesn't have one tone  - life is chaos.  It's multi-faceted in every moment of every day.  As the film begins to cut across realities, the movie does the near impossible and brings you with it - the narrative elements at first reflecting and refracting what we know, then adding to the overall narrative before becoming the narrative.  The relentless slamming of realities and concepts into one another creates a resonant wave of narrative and character.  And it's one of the most fantastic things I've ever seen in film.  Full stop.

It's hard to think of who might be a greater movie star than Michelle Yeoh.   There's a reason she has worldwide appeal, and succeeded as a woman in an industry that has not always been kind to people from countries where English is not the primary language, and to women over a certain age.  But for decades now, she's been working steadily in a vast range of projects.  She's certainly one of the more nuanced performers I can think of, who is utterly buyable as everything from a laundry owner to a transdimensional space empress - all of which makes her maybe uniquely qualified for this role. Which isn't @#$%ing bad when you think I first saw her jumping onto a moving train on a motorcycle.  She didn't *need* to become the actress whose career seems oddly to have found moment after moment where her talents for performing, comedy, impeccable timing and being able to use a keyboard as a blunt weapon are all in play.  But here we are.

The return of Ke Huy Quan to the screen after decades away is a bizarre revelation.  He's our surprise here among the cast.  Kids of my generation loved him in two of our cinema favorites (Temple of Doom and Goonies) and then he disappeared.  For him to return and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Yeoh, matching her transformations and dropping multiple different performances in the film like he was born to them is absolutely wild.  I mean, in some weird way, he's living the fantasy of Gen-X dudes getting to adventure with the coolest adults and fellow kids in his youth and winding up married on-screen to Yeoh?  Well done, my dude.

Jamie Lee Curtis is clearly a favorite already around here.  As is the indispensable James Hong.  But we didn't know about Stephanie Hsu.  And, dang.  Sign her up for everything.

Look, the film is not for everybody, but it says out loud things some of us believe at our core.  Or at least, I do.  And I'll respect the idea that this is not a universal belief system, but I love that it said it, and I love even more how it illustrates the ideas.   

As Lex Luthor, bestowed once upon a time with Superman's powers once observed

from "All Star Superman"

In the grand scheme of things, the universe/ multiverse is ordered only so much - but that order within the chaos of experience, emotion, existence, non-existence, randomly firing synapses and atomic structure, separated by decisions or quantum/ invisible events is what we have.  It's what we are.  And the uncertainty in that universe when you're unmoored can create a spiral into taking it all with you.  We see it every day.  

All we've got is each other.  In the end, your possessions, your persona, none of it matters, including if you spend your precious blip of time doing harm to prove something so inconsequential as that you might be right.  All we've got is what we can share with each other.  And we can fight oblivion with love.

I like a movie that makes me want to be a better person.  I love that the movie takes you through incredible, pivoting points of view, whether it's sympathizing with Yeoh's harried character to start, to realizing her failings to her husband's fruitless and endlessly hopeful yearning, to the multitude of versions of themselves, to Joy as their frustrated child, to a cosmic enemy who has harnessed the reality of transdimensional existence and the utter meaninglessness she finds there.  In the end, the only answer there ever could be was to hang on tight and believe in each other.  Everything else is a bagel drawing you in.

Sometimes we just need to see each other through googly eyes.

There's an infinite amount to say about the film, crossing from Ratatouille references to Wong Kar-wai inspired scenes.  About the many ways love is shown in the film's final reel (Jamie Lee Curtis is as astounding as ever alongside her co-stars).  Folks will be writing about this movie for a while, I hope.  

But I know this is going to be one of the one or two I say at the end of the year were my favorite.

Could Marvel and DC learn from this movie?  Well, I think Marvel in particular has been viewed on a surface level for years that it doesn't necessarily deserve, but until they finish a movie or TV show in a way that doesn't involve a beat-down, it's muddying their messaging and character development.  DC has succeeded with some of this particularly with Doom Patrol, but the mainstream films continue to operate on a videogame logic and might-makes-right level.  But I don't think I'm giving too much away to say - I don't want a Superman film that ends with him lifting progressively larger rocks or fighting his evil opposite in city-leveling fisticuffs.  I think there's a lesson here.

But in the meantime we do have this lovely, hilarious, exhilarating film that made me cry in a way I did not expect, including as they saved the puppet raccoon.

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