By Maya Singh
WARNING: Spoilers ahead.
When Chinese immigrant mother Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) enters her local IRS office to confront a tax audit of her family business, she doesn’t expect a brutal and intense battle across the multiverse with feared villain Jobu Tupaki who - SPOILER - turns out to be her own daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu). Who would? A24’s film Everything Everywhere All At Once is absurdist to its very core, and that aspect renders it one of the most talked-about movies on social media right now.
Everything Everywhere All At Once Film Synopsis
In Evelyn and Joy’s universe of Los Angeles, operating a run-down laundromat and enduring patronizing and unpleasant customers, life seems almost still in its expression of boredom. Evelyn struggles with sharing Joy’s sexuality with the family, dismissing her daughter’s attempts to introduce her girlfriend (Tallie Medel) to Gong Gong (Joy’s grandfather, played by James Hong). This Evelyn doesn’t know that in the AlphaVerse, the first of many universes, Alpha Evelyn has pushed Alpha Joy to a breaking point, forcing her to perform an act called “verse-jumping” repeatedly to study her. Due to the compounded trauma of jumping between universes at an exponential rate, Alpha Joy snaps and experiences every universe, everywhere, all at once — such as the title. All these versions of Joy, broken down by her mother in different ways over and over, have come together to create an everything bagel (yes, the breakfast food) that destroys every universe in its entirety. Evelyn of Los Angeles has been tasked with saving the world from such destruction.
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Children of Immigrants React to Everything Everywhere All At Once
For a ridiculous premise, it’s understandable that Everything Everywhere All At Once, written and directed by the duo Daniels (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert), has garnered the attention of younger generations coming off the backs of media like Black Mirror. These audiences are used to popularizing pieces that overdose on complexity and technology. But Everything Everywhere is different; it’s a family story, and people have noticed. Social media platforms, namely TikTok and Twitter, are flooded with overwhelmingly positive reviews. Some call it brilliant and others astounding, but all can agree it hits every mark and is like nothing the film industry has ever seen before. Most notably well portrayed is the tenuous relationship between Evelyn and Joy, the immigrant mother and American daughter pair being something many millennials and Gen Zers can identify with (including this writer, a child of South Asian parents).
Children of immigrants absolutely struggle with fundamental differences between themselves and their parents, as do most people. But parents and children with highly culturally dissimilar backgrounds face a set of unique challenges in empathizing with and comprehending one another. So goes the stereotype of a hard-working, middle-class, immigrant parent pushing their child to conform to a societal norm or working extra hard to ensure they don’t have to face the same life struggles again. This naturally comes from a good place but can be damaging to the closeness of a relationship, nonetheless. Alpha Joy suffers deep trauma at the hands of Alpha Evelyn, who wants to bring power and success to herself and her daughter, without realizing how it destroys her, and moreover, may not necessarily be what she wants. While Joy’s breaking point is much more exaggerated than a real-life scenario, her sense of exhaustion is painful to watch on screen and undeniably relatable.
Everything Everywhere All At Once Goes Viral on TikTok
Across all social media platforms, Millennials and Gen Zers are expressing how the movie touched them. TikTok user @liveauthentic_ stated tearfully in her viral video that Everything Everywhere was one of the greatest movies she’s ever seen in her life. Commenters agreed that Asian representation meant so much and Yeoh’s Evelyn touched their hearts and reminded them of healing relationships with their own mothers.
User @hannahcalifornia8 simply posted a before and after video of her entering and then exiting the theater to document her reaction to the movie. Her video amassed almost 7 million views and over 1 million likes. For a fairly straightforward TikTok, the public reaction was strong as the majority had complex emotional responses to the film. In the comments, people began unpacking their family dynamics, trauma, and generational stories to complete strangers in a collective moment of cultural sharing and storytelling stemming from the plot of the film itself.
Another user, @soojungsoup, posted a video captioned, “when all you gay Asians told me you cried during Everything Everywhere All At Once I did not know you meant like this,” accompanied by a close-up shot of her with tears in her eyes. The film is pivotal in its attempts to mend the immigrant mother-daughter relationship, something many TikTokers admit that they haven’t been able to do themselves. Evelyn and Joy’s push and pull and their deep-rooted inability to identify with each other force them apart so intensely and bond them back together to a mutual desire to understand, even if it’s rough work.
The Asian Experience in Everything Everywhere All At Once
This film is, importantly, an Asian film. It wouldn’t have been the same with a white cast or lead; Michelle Yeoh and Stephanie Hsu’s performances and cultural identities are integral to explaining why and how their relationship breaks in the first place. Alpha Evelyn’s actions are a metaphor for many immigrant parents’ overwhelmingly high expectations for their children to strive for bigger and better, which can become overwhelming and harmful to a child’s mental health and happiness. Especially if they feel they are not delivering or are not good enough.
Amplifying the Asian experience, protagonist Evelyn does not Americanize her accent; instead, she seamlessly swaps between English, Cantonese and Mandarin when communicating with different characters. And refreshingly, there is no call out to changing dynamics of Eastern life transplanted to the West or profound discussions of cultural disparity between characters for the audience to really pick up on. Rather, we are simply thrown into a group of characters’ real and everyday lives, making the film that much more understandable to the average person despite its bright sci-fi theatrics.
In a video interview with Collider, co-writer and director Daniel Kwan spoke about why his leads were Asian. In 2013 Kwan appeared in hip hop artist Lil Jon’s “Turn Down For What” music video and noticed that most comments on the video discussed his race when it was something he hadn’t considered to be the main focus of the project. He described this realization as a moment in which he wanted to centralize Asian-American stories so that they weren’t necessarily such a surprise or talking point and, on the contrary, could be advantageously commonplace.
Given the recent uptick in Asian hate crimes since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and even in major cities in the last few months, a movie like Everything Everywhere is beneficial to readjusting the narrative and confronting anti-Asian stigmas. It is so inspirationally itself, and the character’s identities are just perfect enough to relate to an Asian and POC audience without feeling stereotypical, overdone, or flat out racist.
Evelyn and Joy’s relationship and the intergenerational trauma they face together are a beacon of hope to strained familial bonds everywhere. After walking out of the theatre, I vowed to bring my own mother to see the movie with me in hopes that we could find common ground and understand each other through the different universes and worlds that Everything Everywhere puts us through. I’ve found it’s too easy to feel distinctly separate from someone who grew up with a different set of rules, morals, and characteristics despite birthing you when mutual love and understanding are completely achievable. This is a phenomenon I see in my relationship with my mother, as do many young women alike. Watching Evelyn begin to reach out and unfurl from the comfort of her own life the way she chooses to live it, offering support and understanding to her daughter in her time of extreme collapse and pain is bittersweet. It’s gratifying and heartwarming to see that it can happen, but a pressing reminder that real-life relationships like these require similar amounts of physical and mental work.
Everything Everywhere All At Once offers us a challenge to take the leap and embrace the chaos to heal our trauma and cultural spirit, just as Evelyn and Joy must do together.
EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE is currently playing in theaters. It will be available to stream on Amazon Video and iTunes beginning May 17, 2022.
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Maya Singh is an Indian-American student based in Brooklyn, New York. She is a senior at NYU studying English Literature and Creative Writing, and a lover of film, poetry and art.