I’ve gone through a TON of growing over the past year.
Thanks to a combination of therapy and finally getting properly medicated for my mental health issues, plus leaving my dead-end, shit-ass, job a little over a year ago today I’m healthier than ever in more ways than one lately. Though I still have a lot I need to unlearn and items in my life that still need addressing I’m more well-adjusted and more than anything more capable of doing the things I’ve always wanted to do and game plan for it appropriately.
But because it took me to the ripe old age of 32 to get it right to a certain extent, the past year has also been plagued by one very troubling question for myself…
I keep asking myself “what if” in a multitude of ways, namely what if I had gotten the mental health care I needed sooner? What if I figured out how to organize my life more appropriately at a far younger age? What if I had been medicated far earlier? Would I be in a much better place today IF I had gotten help and understood my limitations and who I am much earlier?
These questions make me think about a number of troubling missed opportunities that directly tie to my late adjustment in my lifetime. I’ve thought often about whether I would be more successful socially and financially had I gotten the help I needed sooner. Would I have nurtured more relationships I had or potentially could’ve had IF I had been mentally healthier? Would I have stood up for myself during periods that I didn’t, professionally and socially? Would I have been honest with someone I was or was starting to fall in love with IF I hadn’t been plagued by the fear inside my mind?
Would I have kids and a family?
It’s pretty depressing if I think too long about it. My therapist calls it “analysis paralysis” where a person spends so much time thinking about every possible scenario that could’ve played out that they basically end up doing nothing or settling for what feels safe and easy. Story of my life really.
I’m happy that I’ve come around and become more fearless in the past year but it still makes me sad thinking about these countless “What ifs” across my life.
The “what might have beens…”
So when I heard about Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s “Everything, Everywhere, All at Once” a few months back, I immediately knew it was a movie I wanted to see. Besides the fact I’ll watch most anything Michelle Yeoh stars in, I liked the idea of exploring the concept of those “What ifs” through the film’s multi-verse setup. Hollywood has been diving into this idea as of late but through limited lens of cape flicks such as the MCU’s “Nowhere Home” and their upcoming Dr. Strange sequel. So I was eager to see what a more sincere movie not driven by the marketing engine of a mega franchise had to say about those alternate realities where potentially your best self lives.
The result is a film that somehow is even better than I anticipated and gave me the catharsis I didn’t think I needed to see. “Everything, Everywhere, All at Once” is as funny as it is deeply emotional and resonant and came out at exactly the right time for myself.
“Everything, Everywhere, All at Once” tells the story of Evelyn Quan Wang, a Chinese immigrant who is deeply unsatisfied with her life in America as an overwhelmed laundromat owner alongside her husband Waymond and rebellious daughter Joy. She has become so singularly devoted to keeping things in order it has caused friction in her relationships to the two of them as they all lament their depressing lives that revolve around their crumbling business that is set to be seized by the IRS. But something strange begins to happen when her husband snaps into a trance and tells her he’s from an alternate universe seeking her help to stop a tyrant bent on destroying the multi-verse. As he reveals some abilities he has from “verse-jumping” Evelyn reluctantly joins him in his quest but it becomes slowly more clear that their enemy is more familiar to her than she thought otherwise.
“Everything, Everywhere, All at Once” is an appropriate title for this movie, not just because of the multi-verse background of the story but because it truly describes the many ways this film bends, twists, and jumps between genres simultaneously throughout its extensive run-time.
The film has a ton of raunchy humor that will have you full-on belly-aching laughing from start to finish but on top of that it’s also one of the best action films to come out in recent memory as well. In a lot of these universes these characters are apparently martial artists or martial arts adjacent people and the film plays off that in often creative fight sequences that are shot and edited about as well as any Wong-Kar-Wai film or Yuen Woo-Ping choreographed fight scene. There’s an element of Jackie Chan at play here as there are plenty of environment based action comedy sequences that are as dazzling to watch as they are funny. Characters find their alternate universe skillsets in a variety of often absurd ways that while not making a ton of sense will make you laugh your ass off more than a few times through these impressive action set pieces.
The cast is great of course. Ke Huy Quan as Evelyn’s husband Wayman is great playing both the loving immigrant father and husband and the more confident version of himself across the multi-verse. James Hong is his typical proud James Hong self of course and needs no introduction as Evelyn’s senile father. Jamie Lee Curtis is great as she always is across the multiverse of this story too.
Newcomer Stephanie Hsu though really steals the show as Evelyn’s daughter Joy and multi-verse “evil” counterpart Jobu Tupaki who really brings home the film’s most emotional beats between her and Michelle Yeoh’s character. She’s delightfully goofy in certain scenes, tear-jerkingly emotional in more dramatic ones, and her wardrobe game in this film is out of this world in the best way as well. Like the other cast members she is able to play multiple roles perfectly throughout the film and makes the film truly memorable through her performance.
But this is Michelle Yeoh’s movie clearly and it might honestly be her best to date.
Michelle Yeoh is at her most regal but also her most vulnerable here as both a struggling matriarch to her family and also multiple versions of her Evelyn character throughout this film’s multiverse. Some versions of her are more “perfect” than others but she does an amazing job nailing each of them, while the frenetic editing never loses sight of the first version you see of her in the film. Her performance is the glue that makes it all work between her, the other characters, and the crazy plot this film covers. Yeoh is able to make you laugh at the film’s funniest moments. Make your jaw-drop at her still sharp martial arts moves she’s had over her career. But most importantly she, alongside Hsu especially, sells the film’s more emotional moments and will have you bawling your eyes out by the film’s end.
Yeoh’s Evelyn becomes the avatar of those “what ifs” throughout the story and more than the raunchy humor and impressive as hell action sequences, this is the film’s true core that transforms it from being simply a fun film about the multi-verse to a movie that has something positive and uplifting to say.
We can often get stuck in a depressive cycle when life just doesn’t seem to go our way and thus start to think about ways it could be far better. It leads us into our MANY regrets that can often snowball out of control if you’re not careful. There is not a soul on this planet that doesn’t have something they lament about their life. Something that keeps them from being truly content or feeling “perfect.”
As mentioned, that “analysis paralysis” of the “what ifs” and “what might’ve beens” can feel brutal and crushing because you can start counting endlessly how many times you wish you had done something differently and branched off into a better alternate reality where you were more “successful.” What this film does a great job of showing however is that it’s a little more complicated than one or many “bad” choices defining you.
Even if we did do things perfectly those regrets are still there, there is still something that can make you feel unhappy about your life. All decisions, even the good ones have consequences and that’s not so much a painful reality so much as it is normal and a part of life.
In the film, Evelyn see’s universes where she is a famous martial arts actress (heh), chef, Chinese opera singer, and even a lesbian with hot dogs for fingers. And in each of them life isn’t exactly perfect even though on paper this first version of herself we see is the least impressive of all of them. Those choices she felt could’ve led her to a more prosperous or perfect life were in reality inconsequential as each Evelyn is sad about something in one way or another.
And that’s ok.
The film wrestles with the idea that the individual choices we make are in reality inconsequential to our ideal form of happiness to an extent because each choice leads to a new potential pain or agonizing reality so to speak.
BUT it also leads to joys you wouldn’t have had otherwise.
One big regret and “what if” I have from my early adulthood is I really wanted to go to the University of Hawaii following high school. Hawaii has always been near and dear to my heart and the chance to not only live on the islands but study on them as well was something I truly wanted growing up.
But I was in love at the time and chased a girl I was with to the Bay Area and enrolled at San Jose State instead and less than six months into my Freshman year we broke up.
It was devastating because I had gone all-in on this relationship only to have it blow it up almost immediately as I started this developmental period in my life. I went through a lot of pain and anguish for a large chunk of my time at SJSU because of it and as I neared graduation I asked myself “What if” I had noticed the problems earlier and just went with my heart the first time? There’s no telling who I would’ve been had I gone to UH instead but one thing is for sure, I’d be VERY different and often wondered over the years if I would’ve been happier.
But my “mistake” in going to SJSU led to joys that walked alongside those regrets. I joined a fraternity, something I never thought I would ever do, and from it gained friends who I consider family that I wouldn’t trade for the world. I met a woman who I fell in love and stayed with for 8 good years before we too broke up and though there are regrets there as well, I learned so many things from her and through her met many more lifelong friends I wouldn’t have met otherwise.
I grew in a way that I had not envisioned and it wouldn’t have happened any other way just IF I had not made that one “bad” decision.
This one regret partly made me who I am today, in some ways for the worse but in many other ways for the better as well.
I’m going through quite a bit of new drama and regrets right now. My grandmother is on her deathbed and because she only speaks Japanese I’ve never actually had a real conversation with her in my lifetime. A big “What if” for me there is “What if I had learned Japanese?” What kind of relationship would’ve blossomed from that with her had I figured out how to study it, something I’m doing much better at now because again, I am medicated finally.
My mom’s depression, which unfortunately seeped into me growing up, has been on full display as of late because of her own relationship to her. My mom doesn’t talk about it but she is clearly filled with her own regrets that I see a lot of in the character of Evelyn in this movie. Her relationship to her daughter feels fairly similar to my own mom’s relationship to me and is a big reason I was crying my eyes out toward the end of this movie. There’s a lot of pain tied to regrets and when it involves family it is exponentially harder to come to terms with it.
But after I saw the movie, I came home, talked with my mom a bit about how grandma was doing, and we both opened up just a bit to each other and it was truly cathartic. Intergenerational trauma has own its load of “what ifs” and the movie shows that while the past cannot be changed a new future can still be made.
I certainly do not regret being vulnerable in this moment with mom despite our long and let’s say, complicated history. I’m thankful the movie helped me open up even for just one moment and the new potential understanding that blossomed from it.
Yeoh’s Evelyn has a similar catharsis in the film as she begins to realize that “none of it matters” but in the best way possible. Those “what ifs” are simply just “what ifs” and though we can speculate endless on how we could’ve turned out, how we did turn out is more important and isn’t as bad as perhaps we think it is. She realizes this through her relationships to her family. Her senile father, her overly positive husband, and her rebellious daughter, who show her what her life really is, instead of what it is not.
The film shows here that there are still plenty of new choices, new avenues, new routes into new realities that can be formed, as long as we don’t focus endlessly on those “what ifs.”
“Everything, Everywhere, All at Once” is a rare film that hits all the right buttons and feelings from start to finish. It is entertaining as hell in more ways than one, between its crude humor and electric action/fight sequences, but also deeply resonant with anyone who spends as much time as I do thinking about how life “could’ve played out” and not to mention our complicated family lives.
I’m not exactly whole or “perfect” yet but a story like this assures us that we are doing just fine despite our many flaws, issues, troubling thoughts about our past, and those “what ifs.”
It reminds you that nothing matters.
And that’s ok.
5 out of 5