Everything Everywhere All at Once

I laughed, I cried – often simultaneously. This isn't particularly subtle moviemaking. The jokes are broad – every opportunity for silliness is grabbed at. The concluding message about the importance of kindness and community is universal to the point of being banal. That said, this film is undeniably quite clever, and not just because its multiverse-jumping premise is complicated. That premise is used as a metaphor to explore some pretty  dark and heavy stuff.

Michelle Yeoh's character Evelyn is overwhelmed. Everything is happening all at once and she can't cope. But some of this she brings on herself – she's so stressed and inflexible that she treats others poorly, and her family in particular are suffering as a result. Keeping their lives on track is proving difficult even before the alternate realities start to impose themselves. That just adds to the confusion and the general sense that Evelyn cannot assert agency over events. She's buffeted along – struggling to contain her anxieties and disappointments.

The idea of a branching universe highlights the doubts the characters have about the choices they have made. Would Evelyn's life have been stuck in a rut if she had decided not to get married, or move to the United States, or have a child. Her alternate selves seem more beautiful and successful than she is. The film physically confronts her with these alternatives, but this just literalises the poisonous regrets that gather in the depths of depression – the feeling that your life has been wasted, that you've made a mess of it.

Evelyn's daughter Joy is ironically named. Her mother's cold and exacting attitude is suggested to be the cause of a spiral into nihilism and self-destruction. The multiverse metaphor is bent in this direction as well – used as a way to highlight our smallness and meaninglessness in a vast, inexplicable and uncaring cosmos. Joy's lack of support at home has created a monster. Her coping mechanism has been to denounce everything and everyone as worthless – to let go of all attachments, because it's less painful to be alone than to keep caring about what others think of you.

Joy almost succeeds in dragging her mother down into this pit. What saves them isn't yet another invasion from a different and happier reality, but rather a recognition of what they already have. Evelyn doesn't give up on her daughter, even when facing the threat that she'll turn into a terrifying supervillain. Their eventual reconciliation is powerful because the film is so good at depicting the anxiety and depression that have pushed them apart. It feels real and earned, notwithstanding all the jokes and inventive martial arts that accompany it. It's a silly film, but also a smart one, and one that's bursting with heart.

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