One can spot many circular images in Everything Everywhere All at Once. The movie opens with a circular mirror. The washing machines in the laundromat, owned by Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh), move in a circular motion. An IRS officer, Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis), draws a circle on a receipt, and there is a big black bagel eager to suck everyone inside it. Of course, one is bound to ask the obvious question, "Why are there so many...circles? What's their significance?" Well, the round shape represents boredom, fatigue, and indifference. The idea of following the same routine day in, day out without any excitement. The characters say they are pretending to know what they are doing but are just going around in circles, doing laundry and taxes. We also hear the line, "It's a cruel world, and we are all running around in circles." Why is everyone so low-spirited?
For starters, Evelyn is under a lot of stress because of the audit meeting, and the tension only rises due to the presence of her father, Gong Gong (James Hong). Let's just say that Gong Gong is not very "open-minded" and "modern," which is why Evelyn introduces Becky (Tallie Medel) as Joy's (Stephanie Hsu) "good friend." (Joy is Evelyn's daughter and Becky is Joy's girlfriend). The mother-daughter relationship is already bumpy, and Evelyn's introduction of Becky as a "good friend" in front of Gong Gong further creates a rift in this bond. Moreover, Evelyn's husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), is ready with the divorce papers and is just waiting for the right time to talk to his wife about the breakup.
The main cause of all these relationship problems is a lack of communication. When a heartbroken Joy walks out of the laundromat, Evelyn quickly follows her, but instead of consoling her daughter, she criticizes her ("You are getting fat"). When the plot shifts towards multiverse travel and Waymond tries to connect with Evelyn, they are constantly interrupted by the Alpha Waymond. Since Evelyn refuses to have a heartfelt conversation, she pushes Joy towards unhappiness and creates a nihilistic monster - Jobu Tupaki (in the Alpha Verse, Evelyn pushed her daughter and turned her into this gibberish-sounding evil). But Evelyn obviously doesn't notice the issues caused by her bad parenting and blames Jobu Tupaki for her daughter's behavior.
And what solution does the movie propose for the psychological troubles of its characters? This is where Everything Everywhere All at Once falters, as it converts into schmaltzy hokum. Its message, of kindness, of love being greater than war (delivered through Waymond), comes across like superficial epiphanies, a desperate attempt to inject pathos and tenderness into a shiny and hollow razzmatazz. The movie suggests that minor inconveniences add up and make you irritable, which is why when a man's sexual fantasy is fulfilled and someone else's neck issue is solved, they become calm. Even Gong Gong's conservative views change through a dose of love, and he accepts Becky as Joy's girlfriend. Ah, yes, love conquers all, but do we believe it? It's all nothing but a schoolmaster's fable. But still, we would have easily digested the whole charade if the movie had not treated its artificial, surface-level messaging with so much seriousness.
The characters are required to do weird stuff to verse jump, like switching shoes to the wrong feet, eating lipstick, eating gum stuck under a table, stapling paper on the forehead, or saying "I love you" to the person who's after your life. This weirdness doesn't come as a surprise if you have watched Swiss Army Man, also directed by Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan. There, a man and a corpse, who farts too much, have an adventure. Come to think of it, Swiss Army Man, which unfolds on an island, feels more audacious and imaginative than this multiversal drag. The action sequences hold your attention initially but become mind-numbing after a while. There is a lot of chaos from the beginning itself, though nothing truly registers with us.
The characters are unmemorable. In fact, they would have disappeared from our thoughts if not for the presence of such a talented cast. Yeoh, Hsu, Curtis, and Quan do more for the film and their characters and almost manage to imbue liveliness into the material. But their efforts are wasted on a hokey gobbledygook (best of luck listening to the multiversal gibberish during expositions) that, after a certain point, becomes a chore and stops being fun. Everything Everywhere All at Once, ultimately, is not so different from those fatigue-causing superhero franchises.
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