film note: Everything Everywhere All at Once

In any case, there’s no “ideal” spectator. Even when one sees a film a second time, one is always a different spectator.”

(Jonathan Rosenbaum, Phantom Interviewers Over Rivette

To avoid getting accused of being a secret racist, or, heaven forbid, a fuddy duddy, I re-watched Everything Everywhere All at Once.

I took my time, which meant that I felt the same enervation I felt the first time I saw it after only 15 minutes. So I took a break and tried again. Then I stopped again, around the time of the big, ridiculous showdown with Jobu Tupaki.

But, nope, even though I recognized and enjoyed the physical, comic, and dramatic mastery of the adult actors, which really was everything everywhere all at once — I could probably enjoy just watching Michelle Yeoh read a newspaper, and Jamie Lee Curtis is a scream in her part — I’m still not feeling the film overall, nor do I really understand it. I still don’t know what the fuck the spinning black bagel was supposed to signify. I don’t believe that Evelyn knows either, although for the purposes of the film’s conclusion, we’re supposed to believe she does. I didn’t.

For most of this film’s bits, I felt almost exactly how I feel when I skim TikTok, spend too much time in the wilds of fandom on Tumblr, or force myself to read memes my much younger friends send me. I don’t get them. I don’t think they’re funny. I think they’re ugly. The majority of the humor registers as childish and simple, as do the aesthetics. More importantly, I don’t think they’re necessary. At 60 years old, I try to only pay attention to what’s necessary.

“If you seek tranquility, do less.” Or (more accurately) do what’s essential —what the logos of a social being requires, and in the requisite way. which provides double satisfaction: doing less but better. Because most of what we say and do is not essential. If you can eliminate it, you’ll have more time, and more tranquility. Ask yourself at every moment, ‘Is this necessary?’””

(dailystoic.com, The Highest Good: An Introduction To The 4 Stoic Virtues

Very little about this movie, except for the performances, seems essential and certainly not tranquil. It seems obsessed with doing more, louder, and worse.

In other words, I’m too old for this movie, and that doesn’t have a damn thing to do with being or not being racist or understanding or not understanding family trauma, Chinese or otherwise. Considering that, the defenders of this movie make a big deal out of Evelyn finally accepting her queer daughter. But the movie is about Evelyn. The catalyst could have been anything. If Evelyn comes to accept her life as she’s lived it—it’s not at all clear that she does—she doesn’t need a queer daughter to do that. Including a queer character seems like low-key pandering to me.

As stated, the film isn’t even entirely convinced that Evelyn should accept her life as she’s lived it since Evelyn smashes up the laundry and I guess we’re supposed to support her in that. The glamorous life she saw in another universe seems to be the one she really wants, and it’s the one Michelle Yeoh is more or less living. So everything about this movie is confused and confusing, and maybe that reflects the anxieties of the generations the film is addressing and accessing, but that doesn’t mean I have to find it interesting. There’s no way I can find it coherent.

And yet! Despite its intense interest in explaining both the plot and the themes to you, neither make a great deal of sense. 

Freddie deBoer, I Would Like to Gently Suggest that Perhaps Everything Everywhere All at Once is Just a Touch Overrated

Additionally, the scenarios of EEAAO’s multiverses seem spectacularly undercooked, particularly everyone else’s second favorite, the universe where everyone has hot-dog fingers. Yeah, sure, that’s the first thing you think of after a 12-hour brainstorming session. And then you throw it out the next day for something better.

So I guess I’m still the same spectator — the one who was bemused and bored for much of its running time, and who literally and forcefully identified with Michelle Yeoh’s character when she expressed frustration at her alternate-universe husband’s constant nonsensical exposition dumps.

Everything Everywhere All at Once is a movie of and for its time — nothing wrong with that — in a way that I’m definitely not.

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