“Everything Everywhere All At Once” Is a Queer Masterpiece of Colossal Sincerity

Everything Everywhere All at Once, the new film from Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (known as Daniels), is told in three parts. This review will be presented in three parts as well.


Part 1: Go See It

If you have any interest in this movie, trust my opinion, or trust the buzz, just go see it. Stop reading this and go see it. It’s a film filled with surprises and, as far as I’m concerned, the less you know the better.

This is a movie Autostraddle — and the world at large — is going to be talking about a lot over the next year (and beyond) and I’d rather your introduction to that be the movie itself rather than me.

Part 2: Okay, Fine, A Little Context

I’m a little offended you don’t just trust me but, to be fair, there is still a pandemic and not everybody is able to easily go to the movies.

So, first of all, it’s gay. You wouldn’t know it from the trailers, but it’s super gay. And I’m not just talking about that woozy feeling you get watching Michelle Yeoh fight. This is an explicitly queer story.

Yeoh plays Evelyn Wang, a woman who believes austerity is strength and strength is required. She runs a laundromat with her goofy husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) and they have a doomed meeting with their auditor (Jamie Lee Curtis) on the same day Evelyn’s father (James Hong) arrives from China for their Chinese New Year party. Evelyn and Waymond have a daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu), and Evelyn thinks she should get some credit for being okay with Joy having a girlfriend (Tallie Medel) — even if she doesn’t want that girlfriend introduced to her father.

The story goes from a grounded family drama to a wild cinematic experience when Evelyn is confronted by a Waymond from a different universe. Gone is his dopey demeanor, present is a sci-fi action star. Alpha Waymond tells Evelyn that every choice ever made creates a new universe and he is from a universe where they have discovered how to jump between these universes and harness their various skills. He needs this Evelyn’s help to save all these universes from a supervillain named Jobu Tupaki, who is quickly revealed to be Alpha Joy, pushed so hard by Alpha Evelyn that she cracked. She is now everywhere all at once and the possibilities have revealed a pointlessness. If anything is possible, then does anything matter? When darkness and disappointment are an inevitability in all timelines, why care about anything at all?

The conflict between Joy’s (earned) nihilism and Waymond’s (endearing) optimism become the backdrop for Evelyn’s fight to save the multiverse. It remains a family drama but it plays out on an absurd, genre-hopping scale. This is a film as likely to reference Ratatouille as In the Mood for Love, as likely to make you cackle with laughter as it is to make you sob.

Part 3: Hope in a Hopeless World

I’m now going to assume you’ve either seen the film or are one of those wild people who read TV recaps before watching the show. We are not the same species but I love you and accept you.

This is, after all, a film about love and acceptance. Despite its lofty ambitions, this is a work of emotional sincerity — colossal sincerity. And while I love sincerity, for me, it must be grounded in our reality. Empty messages of peace and love can strike me as more violent than violence itself.

The film flirts with that sort of easy messaging. One of Evelyn’s primary journeys is learning to appreciate her husband and his worldview. He begs her to stop the violence and her fight turns into a wacky collection of magical non-violence where people are placated with cute animals — and BDSM.

This scene is exciting and hilarious, but it curdled in my thoughts. In a world where passivity and non-violence are fetishized by those with the most aggression and brutality, how can this be our ultimate conclusion? Waymond’s approach may have value, Evelyn’s negativity may harm her, but how can we ignore the systemic failures that lead to these limited options? How can we ignore the added oppression Evelyn faces as a woman? How can we ignore the challenges both of them face as Chinese American immigrants in a country based in racism and xenophobia?

But as the film continues, as Evelyn’s conflict with her husband is settled and her conflict with Joy remains, the thematic core seems to expand. Evelyn’s arc with Waymond isn’t realizing he’s right, it’s realizing that he’s not wrong, it’s realizing that they balance each other out and maybe can both learn from the other. Joy and Jobu Tupaki don’t shift their worldview to being all puppies and BDSM — they simply resist the urge to give up, they too acknowledge the value in their parents.

The moment where the film deepened for me was when Evelyn, amidst the big battle, introduces Joy’s girlfriend to her dad as Joy’s girlfriend. It’s a grand gesture and in a weaker film it would be met with celebration. Instead Joy, rushes off. She tells Evelyn that it’s too late. One grand gesture is not the same as a lifetime of unconditional love, one new ally is not the same as a world worth fighting for.

And yet, even in the fantastic Alpha universe, Jobu Tupaki searched for Evelyn. Despite all that version’s nihilism, she still wanted her mom. It’s an imperfect desire, for some it will never be fulfilled, but it’s a desire all the same.

As a young queer person, this is a movie about parents. It’s a movie about looking at a hopeless world and resenting the people who brought me into it. It’s a movie about learning to love those people for who they are and not who I want them to be, of learning to love the world for what it is and for what I want it to be.

I will never argue for unrestricted non-violence. But I will argue for unrestricted compassion. Ultimately, that’s what the film does as well. We don’t have to agree, we don’t have to excuse the inexcusable, but we can see the humanity in everyone.

We can see the humanity in every version of ourself.


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Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is an LA-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. Her writing can be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Thrillist, I Heart Female Directors, and, of course, Autostraddle. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about trans lesbians. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @draw_gregory.

Drew Burnett has written 308 articles for us.

20 Comments

  1. Everything about this review is spot on.

    As a half Chinese, specifically South East Asian (Malaysian Singaporean), cis woman this film & seeing Michelle Yeoh finally be given a role that lets her explore so many facets of herself has been life changing.

    I hear my aunts in her voice, I see my relationships to them in Evelyn & Joy regarding my queerness, I see the deep love my body feels when I practice martial arts in her movements. The release and discipline that gifted me an outlet where there were no words

    In Waymond I saw my father and his desperation to succeed and his love for his family. In Ke I feel the rage for an industry that chewed him up in his youth and spat him out to fend for himself when he no longer served their interests.

    There is so much more I could say.

    Everything about this movie is a revelation. I full belly laughed, cooed and wept on a loop. It is a film that deserves every moment of its time in the sun.

    Thank you so much for reviewing this.

  2. I saw this last night and was STUNNED that it was so explicitly gay! I don’t know if that was intentional in the marketing (like the marketing department thought people wouldn’t want to see this movie if it was about a Chinese-American woman and her gay daughter??) but the movie isn’t trying to hide how queer it is! Awards are mostly useless but I will start the Oscar campaign for Michelle Yeoh right now. Also awards for set design, editing, sound, and basically anything technical because WOW was this movie an incredible achievement! I can’t remember the last time I went straight from howling with laughter to sobbing. I’m so happy this movie was made and thank you for writing about it Drew!

  3. Aaaaaaaahhhh I was already so excited to see this and I had no idea it was also queer!! I’m going to save this to read until after I watch it cause I don’t want to get spoiled, so now I have two things to look forward to!

  4. Drew, thanks for the review! I been looking for a good movie to watch lately, so now I have one!!

    I am a naughty girl: I read through the entire review without going to watch it…soooooory!! I really do trust you!! :)

  5. This movie was possibly the best moviegoing experience I’ve had in my entire bloody life – what a delightful, thoroughly original gem of a film that makes you completely present for every minute of it. It’s queer, absolutely – but it’s also a homage to the vastness of queerness itself – how precarious, wholesome, large and small it can feel to not just the subject but the participant too. Marvel’s been put to shame really. I cannot recommend it enough, anyone and everyone please watch it.

  6. Love your review. Saw this with my teenage daughter last night and deeply cherished the ability to share the existential, absurd story. It led to great conversations around queerness, our relationship as mother and daughter, and sitting with the groundlessness of existence.

    • Love that you could share it with your daughter, made me teary eyed (still running down as I write this)……..It’s beautiful when we can share these kinds of things with our children……..thanks for sharing this….

  7. Just got home from seeing this movie and this is the review that made me go see it! So so glad I did — it was a total wild ride that made me laugh out loud over and over and also cry. I am also excited to see it again and see what I didn’t catch the first time!

  8. I saw this film yesterday since I am a Michelle Yeoh fan. Little did I suspect that it would turn into the film it is. Queer, affirming, heroic and emotionally deep. Needless to say, I am recommending it to all my friends.

  9. It was super gay but also super penile-gay. Every even vaguely sexual reference, joke, innuendo, or GRAPHIC GRAPHIC set piece that had anything to with sex was about the male body. I do get tired of this trope. If only the male sex is graphically sexualized and the entire conversation is about gay women and female sexual identity (well, subtract the ‘sexual’ part of that) it comes across as inauthentic to me.

  10. I was excited to see this and I did enjoy the movie but it got redundant and bizarre with the fighting scenes and the overtly gay theme (hot dog hands sex) . The lead actress was terrific and so was the pouting daughter. I was hoping it would have explored more of the relationships in different universes. In the end I felt it was a bit of a let down because everything was basically to solve the conflict with the daughter. The deeper marital problems with the husband were minimized.

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