Starla and David review Everything Everywhere All At Once.
Boomer Mom V. TikTok by David Buckley
I recently argued Matt Reeves’ The Batman is really about Generation Y’s varying reactions to a corrupt world built by their Baby Boomer parents. Everything Everywhere All At Once, directed by two guys who are both named Daniel, is also about the Millennial-Boomer divide, but it approaches its subject matter from the opposite perspective: that of a Boomer mom trying to keep her family together in a frenetic world she no longer understands.
Michelle Yeoh plays Evelyn Wang, the matriarch of a Chinese-American family that’s falling apart. Not only is the IRS auditing the Wangs’ family business, but Evelyn’s lesbian daughter Joy (played by Stephanie Hsu) has also nervously resolved to bring her girlfriend to the family’s Chinese New Year celebration. It’s a provocative choice made even more controversial by the fact that Joy’s traditional and judgmental grandfather, Gong Gong (played by James Hong), has recently arrived from China.
To make matters worse, Evelyn’s husband Waymond (played by Ke Huy Quan) is a complete dolt who files for divorce in a confused attempt to save their marriage.
But something strange occurs on the family’s way to the IRS. In the elevator, Waymond’s normally goofy and aloof personality is momentarily displaced by that of a Bruce Lee-style action hero. After arming Evelyn with a funky Bluetooth headset, Waymond’s alternate personality gives Evelyn some very specific instructions.
Evelyn reluctantly does as she’s told and is inexplicably transported to another room where she again meets her husband’s alternate, action-hero personality.
This is Alpha Waymond. He comes to Evelyn from the Alpha Universe, the inhabitants of which have developed a method of “verse-jumping” – a technique that enables them to jump from universe to universe and harness the abilities, experiences and even bodies of their alternate selves. For instance, when Evelyn encounters assailants, she verse-jumps to a universe in which she knows Kung Fu.
Alpha Waymond needs Evelyn’s help to fight an evil verse-jumper named Jobu Tupaki. As it turns out, Jobu Tupaki is actually the Alpha version of Evelyn’s daughter Joy. We learn that in the Alpha Universe, Jobu Tupaki verse-jumped so many times and so intensely that she gained an ability to experience all universes at once and can now bend reality to her will. This evil version of Joy is a transgressive whirlwind of Millennial angst with the power to instantaneously leap into one Lady Gaga outfit after another.
When Evelyn finally encounters Jobu Tupaki for the first time, she assumes this Alpha version of Joy is the reason why the Joy of her universe gets tattoos, no longer calls and is gay. In actuality, we learn Jobu Tupaki’s ability to experience everything everywhere has led her to the conclusion that nothing matters. Because life is no more than a random sequence of meaningless particles, she has created a cosmic “Everything Bagel” akin to a black hole that could potentially unravel the fabric of the multiverse.
In the end, Evelyn’s only chance to keep her family together and save reality as she knows it is to become like Jobu Tupaki and experience everything everywhere all at once. If that’s not a metaphor for learning to use the internet, I don’t know what is.
Everything Everywhere All At Once is in every respect a better film than The Batman. It’s original, funny, occasionally moving, and captures the anxiety, unease and despair felt by anyone who’s ever held an iPhone, or grappled with the now mainstream many-worlds interpretation espoused by some of today’s most respected physicists. It’s also an opportunity to see Ke Huy Quan – who hasn’t graced the silver screen since he was a child star in such Spielberg classics as The Goonies and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom — back in action.
But while the film entertains, it fails to resolve its central conflict in any satisfying way. When faced with a hopelessly corrupt world, The Batman’s protagonist finds inspiration in the next generation. In Everything Everywhere All At Once, Evelyn gazes into the infinite abyss and ultimately comes to the same conclusion as her daughter — nothing matters. The film leaves us with an anticlimactic reminder to be kind anyway.
Everything Everywhere All At Once poses a question as old as Solomon. Why keep going when all is vanity? In response, the audience is subjected to a clueless shrug and a patronizing pat on the head. Don’t get me wrong — the film is worth a watch. But if you are sincerely looking for reasons not to end it all tomorrow, you’re much better off calling a hotline.