Freeman Cebu Entertainment

Why ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’ is well-deserving of its Best Picture Oscars win

Januar Junior Aguja - The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines —  Last June, I watched “Everything Everywhere All at Once” on opening day at SM Seaside City, eager to see what the hype was all about. It had already a promising multiverse concept and its production feels so high-budget for an independent movie.

The film was made by A24, a studio known for its high-quality, critically-acclaimed filmography such as “Moonlight”, “Hereditary”, “Midsommar”, “X”, “Pearl”, and many more. Most importantly, it has an Asian cast led by Michelle Yeoh, and directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, collectively known as The Daniels.

“Everything” focuses on the Wangs, an Asian immigrant family in the United States who owns a laundromat that is being audited by tax authorities. An appointment with tax officer Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis) suddenly turns into a multiverse adventure when the family’s matriarch Evelyn Wang (Yeoh) encounters an alternative version of her husband Waymond (Ke Quy Huan) who tells her that she is the last hope to save the “multiverse” from a dangerous force named “Jobu Tupaki.”

My synopsis does not even cover the crazy things that happen in the film. In between traveling through the multiverse, Evelyn learns about her alternate selves in various universes and picks up their skills in an attempt to defeat Jobu Tupaki. There was an Evelyn who became an action star (a journey very close but not exactly a copy of Yeoh’s career), an Evelyn who learns how to do kung-fu through her pinky finger, an Evelyn who is a lesbian in a universe where everyone has hot dogs as fingers, and even an Evelyn who is just…a rock. There are so many alternate versions of Evelyn, Waymond, and other characters that are just too many to mention.

With so much of this craziness, one would ask, “Why did this movie win seven awards at the Oscars including Best Picture?” The answer is quite clear if you watch it. The film’s surrealistic elements are used to tell a story about the joys and pains of a dysfunctional immigrant family with generational trauma. By traveling through the multiverse, Evelyn’s husband Waymond, daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu), father Gong Gong (James Hong), and all of their alternate variants play significant roles in the story as Evelyn attempts to heal strained relationships caused by the said generational trauma – something that feels way too familiar for any person of color.

It also tackles the philosophy of nihilism, showcasing the pros and cons of this mindset as Evelyn encounters successful and failed variants of herself. She ponders on one of the film’s underlying mottos during her adventure, which is “Nothing matters.” Without spoiling too much, Jobu Tupaki thrives on nihilism that helps drive them to execute their supposed armageddon plan. It’s very much up to Evelyn to save the whole multiverse and her family from this catastrophic event.

Watching “Everything” is like going through a rollercoaster of emotions. I was shocked. I was amazed. I was laughing. I was confused. I was in awe. I was laughing again. I was confused again. My stomach hurts from laughing so much. But all of these emotions ended in one thing – I cried. A lot. That’s the most significant emotion I remember watching the movie.

Beneath these weird, surrealistic elements is a story with a lot of heart, something that might be hard to pull off given how there’s so much going on. Yet “Everything” did all of this perfectly with the Daniels’ clever writing and direction, its pitch-perfect editing and visual effects, and of course, the brilliant performance from its cast.

What resonated with me is that I was able to see so much of my family in this film. I am the son of Overseas Filipino Workers and I grew up with my parents outside of my homeland. I saw both the worst and the best of my parents and my sister, and they saw my worst and best as well. I believe I got both of my strengths and weaknesses from my parents, the latter rooted in generational trauma that is widely experienced in immigrant families.

Yet, only the children acknowledge this trauma while the parents couldn’t care less because they are only after survival. I can’t blame the parents (including mine) for not caring too much about it, especially since they are old and just want to relax after spending years trying to make ends meet.

Looking back on how my parents worked hard to make sure my sister and I got the best education they could afford, I feel like I am privileged to be able to think about other things that are going on beyond my family. This includes understanding the implications of generational trauma that started with our ancestors and how it impacted our identities as Asians and people of color in this increasingly globalized world something my parents probably don’t have the luxury of time to understand. I am confident that so many of my fellow young Asians and Filipinos can relate to what I am saying, I hope.

When I came out of the theater, I remember thinking that “Everything” is an Oscar-worthy movie. But I thought the weird, surreal parts might hurt its chances of being taken seriously by potentially snobbish cinephiles. I mean, the movie has a universe where people have hot dogs for fingers, and dildos and butt plugs are used as weapons. How can you pitch this kind of movie to the voting members of the Academy?

Yet nine months after watching it on the big screen, this “Everything” grabbed historical wins at the Oscars. Yeoh is the first Asian actress to win Best Actress and the second woman of color since Halle Barry in 2002. Quan is the second Asian actor to win Best Supporting Actor. And of course, the film grabbed the top prize which is Best Picture. Other wins include Best Editing, the Daniels snatching Best Directing and Best Original Screenplay, and Curtis winning Best Supporting Actress, a category which Hsu was also nominated for.

I remember how the Oscars ten years ago would have most films win based on their technicalities, but their story wasn’t enough to pierce the heart of viewers including mine. It didn’t help that some of them are told from a white person’s perspective, making these films Oscar bait, which made the awarding ceremony predictable for years until the triumph of “Moonlight” in 2016 changed the perception of what makes a film Oscar-worthy. This was further amplified by the win of “Parasite” in 2020.

By having this surrealistic action-comedy win Best Picture for its emotionally perfect handling of complex themes, I am hopeful for the future of cinema. I am optimistic that we are going to see some very unique films that are going to engage the hearts of viewers, regardless of whether the concept may be weird or not for the Oscars. It would even be great if some of these films have Asians and other people of color as leads, which is reflective of what our world looks like.

I personally believe that movies, regardless of genre, should be able to showcase what segments of our society look like today and how people in this certain period feel which, will linger for generations to come. “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is easily a new modern classic, a much-needed story for all young Asians like me (and other people in general) who have complicated, yet loving relationships with their families.

To quote Evelyn in a heartwarming scene with her daughter Joy in the climax, “There is something out there, some new discovery that will make us feel like even smaller pieces of s**t. Something that explains why you still went looking for me through all of this noise. And why, no matter what, I still want to be here with you. I will always, always, want to be here with you.”

These are the words we wish we could hear from our parents.


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