Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Generational Hurt & Healing In “Everything Everywhere All At Once”

Many have claimed that the Daniels’ “Everything Everywhere All At Once” is too whacky for the Academy to fully embrace this awards season. Its dissenters claim it’s too erratic, with lots of overwhelming imagery, flashes of editing, and oodles of imagination leaping off the screen vs. the traditional style of storytelling found in other Oscar contenders such as “The Fabelmans.” However, within all of the madness lies the filmmakers’ intention for emotional catharsis, rooted in character, thus giving the film its emotional power and, we would argue, positioning itself as this year’s dark horse to win Best Picture when all is said and done.

**Spoilers For “Everything Everywhere All At Once” Ahead**

The action sequences, with endless creativity from a stunt choreography team that includes Brian and Andy Le of Martial Club, and the physicality of its performances creates so many great standout moments for its performers. From Ke Huy Quan’s masterclass in physical acting in Alpha Waymond’s first fight with a group of security guards to Jamie Lee Curtis delivering an iconic Godzilla roar while doing a flying kick as Deidre to Harry Shum Jr. unleashing his abilities as a dancer for puppet-esque gourmet chef, Chad. And, of course, at the center is martial arts cinema legend Michelle Yeoh, fusing her action star persona within her portrayal of Evelyn Wang.

The film’s merging of an Asian American family story with a wacky sci-fi action spectacle finds its foundation within Yeoh’s performance, crossing over the film’s endless palette of tones and genres. The greatness of her performance lies in how she plays with her established presence as a performer. She excels in a role so against her usual type with this neurotic laundromat owner wallowing in day-to-day malaise and infusing it with growing strength and confidence throughout the film. She shines as the paragon of strength and badass confidence you’d expect while also surprising in new directions along her journey. The film utilizes each action sequence involving Yeoh to develop Evelyn’s arc as she confronts one bizarre new obstacle after the other. Her hands, arms, and legs are constantly in motion, whether in service of slapstick with some hilarious reactions to the madness around her or indulging in some of this wackiness herself as a verse-jumper. All of this builds up to the final fight scene, where she squares off against her adversary/fellow verse-jumper Jobu Tupaki (Stephanie Hsu), who is also her daughter Joy.

As Evelyn tries to prevent Jobu from entering the nihilistic self-annihilation of the everything bagel, the two end up in an action sequence where the two verse-jumpers traverse across universes. Paul Rogers’ editing takes us through different madcap dimensions we have encountered before. What differentiates this from the previous sequences is Jobu is in much less control; where she was toying with Evelyn previously, here, she is a mess of emotions. Meanwhile, in the ‘home’ universe, Evelyn tries to reconnect with the estranged Joy before she leaves for good. Both confrontations are payoffs to the generational conflict between the two established throughout the film. The generational divide, a key point of so many Asian diaspora films this year, from “Turning Red” to “Bad Axe,” has been established throughout the movie as the ultimate stakes between Evelyn and Joy/Jobu Tupaki, who argue and tussle throughout the film over Joy’s lifestyle and her girlfriend Becky, and Jobu’s nihilist belief in the meaningless of life, where she had previously expressed hope that Evelyn would ‘see something she didn’t believe in all the chaos of the universe, “that you would convince me there was another way.” In this final fight scene, Evelyn tries to convince Joy of another way. As Evelyn confronts Jobu for the last time, Jobu preps herself into an aggressive attacking stance. Evelyn retorts with a flurry of martial arts gestures which culminates in her opening her arms in a posture of embrace, willing Jobu to come into her arms. Where Hsu is brilliant at showing the flurry of rage and energy directed at Evelyn as a manifestation of all her frustrations, Yeoh’s performance is the perfect accompaniment, indicating a desire not to attack but to reconnect. Her martial arts background was utilized in a diegetic fashion in previous sequences in the universe where Evelyn is a martial arts legend, harnessing those energies to combat others. In this final fight, Yeoh’s screen presence is subverted so powerfully as Evelyn counteracts her daughter’s blows with a defensive posture and pulls her punches. When she finally fights back, it is to hug Joy to prevent her from entering the bagel.

So many scenes show why I think Michelle Yeoh would make for one of the great Best Actress Oscar winners, and her physical performance throughout “Everything Everywhere All At Once” is a big reason why. She deserved recognition before for her work in Best Picture nominee “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” where her showdown with Zhang Ziyi, ostensibly a showdown between a cocky youngling against a wiser veteran, involves such great physical acting by both actresses. Zhang’s spirited, aggressive blows are parried with Yeoh’s more measured, assured moves, a ball of fury opposite a paragon of calmness. “Everything Everywhere All At Once” features what could be seen as a spiritual successor to that sequence, with the older and the younger generation coming into conflict with one another, Yeoh as the seasoned guiding force as Evelyn takes in the blows, accompanied by the cathartic line delivery of “I am your mother” as she hugs her daughter. Jobu Tupaki’s costume unravels to reveal the scared, uncertain Joy underneath all the overt posturing. This fight sequence sets up Evelyn and Joy’s final reconciliation perfectly. And in the aftermath of the fight, as the two generations of the Asian diaspora come together in the finale and collectively heal, I think back to my own experiences with rifts and healings within my family. Human beings are imperfect, but it is the way we reconnect through these imperfections that genuinely matters. The most powerful move to bridge the generational divide can be to extend a hug, a warm embrace, a comfort. And in “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” Yeoh and Hsu’s love and tenderness expressed so beautifully make the subsequent reconciliation of Evelyn and Joy all the more powerful.

Do you think “Everything Everywhere All At Once” will be nominated for Best Picture? Do you think it will win? What are your current predictions for it? Please let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter account, and check out the NBP team’s latest Oscar predictions here.

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