‘Everything, Everywhere, All at Once’: Ground-breaking triumph or puzzle of pointlessness?

May 17, 2023
Source: Getty

An unabashed movie lover, I always prepare for the Academy Awards by watching as many of the nominated films as I can.

Generally, I can only see those that have been released and shown here in Australia, although recently, some have also been available on streaming services.

I went to the cinema to see Top Gun: Maverick, Elvis, Avatar: The Way of Water and Banshees of Inisherin. I watched All Quiet on the Western Front on Netflix and Everything, Everywhere All at Once on Foxtel.

This year, then, I was able to see six of the films nominated for Best Picture before the winners were announced. 

At this year’s Academy Awards ceremony, Everything, Everywhere, All at Once swept away its opposition to win Best Picture, Best Director (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert), Best Actress (Michele Yeoh), Best Supporting Actress (Jamie Curtis), Best Supporting Actor (Ke Huy Quan) Best Original Screen Play and Best Film Editing.

Everything, Everywhere, All at Once is not an easy film to categorise. It is variously described as an absurdist comedy and a science fiction film. No science fiction film has ever won Best Picture and few comedies have, either.

In that respect Everything, Everywhere, All at Once is a ground-breaking film. In addition, of all the actors nominated for Academy Awards – and there have been nearly 2,000 – only 23 have identified as Asian, making Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan’s wins a triumph for actors of Asian ancestry.

Having seen five of the films in the running against Everything, Everywhere, All at Once for the crown of Best Picture, I know that this year’s competition was strong. The Banshees of Inisherin and All Quiet on the Western Front are both memorable films, exquisitely acted and extraordinarily powerful.

I would not have been surprised if either film picked up the gong over Top Gun: Maverick, Elvis and Avatar: The Way of Water, each a spectacular film and widely popular.

On the other hand, although it was widely tipped to win, I doubted that Everything, Everywhere, All at Once, stood much of a chance. 

When I wrote (above) that I had watched Everything, Everywhere, All at Once before the Academy Awards, I was telling a half-truth.  In fact, I had tried to watch it – twice. Each time I was unable to engage with it and didn’t make it past the first half an hour or so. When Everything, Everywhere, All at Once won Best Picture, I was shocked.

What had I missed?  I decided to give the film another chance, resolving that I would not allow myself to be distracted from it and that I would persevere to the end.

Once again, I failed. However, not one to accept defeat easily, I returned some weeks later.   

The first twenty minutes or so of Everything, Everywhere, All at Once sets the scene. The main character, multi-tasking Evelyn (played by Michelle Yeoh), frantically toils to bring order to the chaotic clutter of her life.  The character looks overwhelmed. I feel tired just watching her.

So far, so good. Many women in the squeeze generation – middle-aged women working full or part-time, while caring for elderly parents and bringing up their own children – will know exactly how she feels.  

Unfortunately, for me, the narrative falls apart when Evelyn attends a tax audit of her small business. There she is abruptly transported into a series of alternative realities (in the multiverse). These episodes are punctuated by occasional returns to the here and now.

Watching Evelyn’s verse-jumping is psychedelic, more like experiencing a mental breakdown than an imaginative adventure. The amazing stunts and special effects that accompany Evelyn’s verse-jumping only serve to further fragment the story arc. Throwing everything, everywhere all at once at this viewer really is TOO much to bear.

Everything, Everywhere, All at Once is about nihilism, the philosophy that life is ultimately pointless and devoid of meaning. That being the case, then I must concede that Everything, Everywhere, All at Once fits the brief.

My multi-viewing experience turned out to be pointless. Why, I wonder would anyone want to make a film that is pointless – except perhaps as an intellectual exercise – and how could such a film end up being Picture of the Year?

Along with the wins associated with Everything, Everywhere, All at Once, a record number of actors with Asian ancestry were recognised at this year’s Academy Awards.

Post-Oscar reviews of Everything, Everywhere, All at Once have a congratulatory tone, most lauding the Motion Picture Academy for embracing diversity and inclusion, at last. 

Everything, Everywhere, All at Once is an “unapologetically Asian American story with an Asian American cast … recognised by the most prestigious institution in the entertainment industry, now headed by an Asian President, Janet Yang.” Perhaps, therein lies the tale and also the problem.

Narratives (in their many forms) are an education. Stories give us a chance to learn through vicarious experience. They allow us to walk in someone else’s shoes, get to know them and care about what happens to them

This did not happen for me with Everything, Everywhere, All at Once. What I might have learnt about the Asian American experience was lost somewhere deep in the swirling multiverse its characters inhabited.

However, that’s just me. What do others think?


Keen to share your thoughts with other 60-pluses? You can sign up as a contributor and submit your stories to Starts at 60. While you’re at it, why not join the Starts at 60 Bloggers Club to talk to other writers in the Starts at 60 community and learn more about how to write for Starts at 60.

Stories that matter
Emails delivered daily
Sign up