Cappuccino Review: Everything Everywhere All At Once
Think: Blenders, Butt Plugs, and Chinese Noodles.
“Of all the places I could be, I just want to be here with you.” ~ Evelyn Wang, Everything Everywhere All At Once
I’ve spent most of my life asking myself one question: Is it me or is it them?
In the instance of this latest multiverse CGI-splooge-a-palooza, I’m pretty sure it’s me. I mean, everybody—and I mean everybody—loves Everything Everywhere All At Once. It has a 95% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The fact that I didn’t enjoy it says a lot more about my limitations as a person than it does about any perceived deficiencies of this film.
So I’d like to start my review by saying I’m likely wrong, I just don’t get it, I’m past my sell-by date for movies that involve this much CGI (computer-generated imagery—special effects made on a computer), and that you would be wise not to listen to me.
In the interests of full disclosure, I also hate The Three Stooges, the slapstickiness of which bears a passing resemblance to this movie. So, BAM, there’s another sacred cow I just shot in the head. You’re welcome.
Cappuccino is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Watch Everything Everywhere All At Once. Read other reviews. Then get back to me about how I missed the point. Believe me, there’s a good chance I’ll agree with you.
I started out liking the premise: a family of Chinese immigrants who own and operate a laundromat are being audited by the I.R.S. Were this a non-immigrant family, the movie would have likely held little interest for me. Michelle Yeoh plays Evelyn Wang, a harried, distracted mother of a queer daughter (Stephanie Hsu). Her husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) is so desperate to connect with her, he tries serving her with divorce papers just to get a moment’s worth of her attention.
In these opening scenes, we are firmly planted in reality, albeit with hints of the chaos to come. The pot of noodles, for instance, as a somewhat ham-handed metaphor for the jumbled, zigzagging multiverses the whole family will soon find themselves entangled in. The minute I saw those noodles, I thought, uh oh.
And then, with the sudden whimsy one might expect from a Looney Tunes, Evelyn finds herself leaping between multiple universes, multiple versions of her personal hell. By doing something crazy (e.g., wearing each shoe on the wrong foot) and pressing a green button on an earpiece, she ceases to be Evelyn Wang, small business owner, and becomes a multiverse superhero tasked to stop an intergalactic villain named Jobu Tupaki … who happens to be someone she knows quite well in this universe, too. Even husband Waymond becomes a fanny-pack-wielding super-ninja skilled in the arts of metaphysical monkeyshines.
Perhaps if I were a different person, someone more lighthearted and less analytical, I might have been able to suspend my disbelief and just go with it. But for me, this rushing from one universe to the next, one reality to the next, one soundstage to the next, gave me nowhere to land. It’s like trying to study scenery outside the window of a high-speed train. My poor little brain was left twitching like a squirrel caught under a car tire. After a while, all the universes looked alike, felt alike, sounded alike, especially since each one made frantic attempts to trump the shock value of the one before. Unstoppable warriors with butt plugs, for instance. Or dildoes as ninja sabers. Did butt plugs extend the theme of the movie? No. Were they a metaphor for Evelyn’s “stopped up” personality? No. Am I one of those humorless dolts who apparently needs a justification for every little creative decision?
Wait. Don’t answer that.
But for me, the movie dragged—which, if you think about it, is a bigger shock than the dildoes, butt plugs, and waggling “hot dog fingers.” At times, there was mother-daughter pathos, which was oddly affecting, given the whiz-bang, technicolor distractions. And I appreciated the fact that unlike, say, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which just seemed like a soulless amalgam of every Disney cliché and spooky space trope a corporate studio could barf out in one viewing, Everything Everywhere made an attempt to be something more than just CGI. As any mother will attest, parenting a teenager does sometimes feel like you’re doing battle on a cosmic scale, only in parallel but wildly conflicting realities.
In Michelle Yeoh’s strong, capable hands, Evelyn does manage to transcend the clownishness assigned to her and become a true superhero, which isn’t a multidimensional traveler, but a human mother of a human daughter who is struggling to become who she needs to be. When Yeoh’s Evelyn finally says, “Of all the places I could be, I just want to be here with you,” it resonates.
The problem is, I felt the same way. I didn’t want to be in those other places. I wanted to be in the laundromat with the tumbling dryers and the warm sudsy water and the hum of machinery and this immigrant family. I wanted a story that didn’t feel as though it had to be in your face all the time with its googly eyes and Roger Rabbit pyrotechnics. But it sure feels as though we’re heading away from that kind of storytelling these days, and I think I know why.
To be sure, Disney had nothing to do with Everything Everywhere, which was the brainchild of A24, an independent studio I particularly admire for having created Uncut Gems, Midsommar, Lady Bird, and Moonlight. But you can still feel Disney’s insidious influence. They’re the ones who are driving this trend of over-the-top, cartoonish, multiverse filmmaking. Their Marvel comics franchise is like the acid dripping from the fangs of Ridley Scott’s Alien. It liquefies everything it touches.
What have I got against Disney? Their outsized control over popular culture, for starters.
They own everything. They own you.
Disney also owns:
American Broadcasting Company (ABC)
National Geographic Channel
ESPN (Disney owns 80% stake)
A&E (50% equity holding with Hearst Corporation)
The History Channel (50% equity holding with Hearst Corporation)
Lifetime (50% equity holding with Hearst Corporation)
ABC+ and more.
Then there are the theme parks:
Walt Disney World Resort
Magic Kingdom Park
Disney's Blizzard Beach Water Park
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
Arendelle - World of Frozen
Image of Adventureland
Image of Liberty Square
Image of American Waterfront
Shanghai Disneyland Park
Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park
Disney cruise lines:
And, of course, their entertainment studios:
Pixar Animation Studios
Marvel Entertainment Inc
The Muppets Studio LLC
Caravan Pictures in Hollywood
Walt Disney Studios
Vice Media (10% stake)
Hollywood Records, and many others.
That’s a whole lot of influence over the news shows you watch, the sports programs you see, the music you listen to, the movies you go to, the cruises you take, the theme parks you visit, and the entire zeitgeist of the entertainment industry. By any rubric, it’s a monopoly. But we seem to have dispensed with those pesky anti-trust concerns that once wrested us from the jaws of corporate excess in the early part of the last century.
Now, we have Disney. And Disney has stores and studios all over the world.
If it were just a corporate juggernaut, that’s one thing. But it’s so much worse than that. Disney has lain waste to the entertainment industry. They exert a malevolent influence over the ways stories are told and the way stories are made. They determine what you see, how you see it, and what you will pay for the privilege.
Furthermore, as a “family-friendly” entertainment behemoth, their goal to be as anodyne as possible. Sure, they’re innovating technologically. They’re maximizing profits. But culturally and artistically, they are always going to aim for the middle, and revolutionary concepts don’t happen in the middle. They only happen when the status quo is set on its ear.
So, as much as I’d like to think this new form of storytelling with its ten-second jump cuts, sensory overload, and babbling hysteria is just an aberration, I’m likely wrong. Disney will continue to shoot Bambi’s mother in the head, whether up close or from a distance.
And most people will be so busy buying Disney merch, they’ll never see it coming.
Copyright © 2023 Stacey Eskelin
Have you seen Everything Everywhere All At Once? What are your thoughts? I want to hear ‘em! Be sure to leave your comments in the comments section below.
Stacey's ability to transform a film I found purile and shruggable into a nihilistic screed against the Disney pleasure dome is my favorite part of today.
Most of what I consider the best films have no CGI or loads of action and jump cuts, just a good story and great acting. These films usually get little notice from the general public, but I love them. Some examples would be LA Confidential, Cold Comfort Farm, Sunshine Cleaning, Secrets and Lies, Amelie, The sting, Casablanca, Fading Gigolo, The Thin Man, The Sting, Big Night, Au Revoir Les Enfants, Belle du Jour, Fundamentals of Caring, Chinatown, Klute, Sunset Boulevard, etc.