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What to Watch: An Original, Moving Family Drama… in the Multiverse

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Lately, movies kind of suck. 

Let me explain. Here’s the list of films showing at Providence Place cinemas right now: a Batman remake, the sequel to a movie based on a video game hedgehog, a film adaptation of a middle-grade book series, Sony’s worst (so far) attempt at adapting a marginal comic book character for their nonexistent film universe, a movie whose main selling point is Nicholas Cage characters from other Nicholas Cage movies you would rather be watching, and the second sequel to a failing film series based on a slim textbook from the Harry Potter universe.

The movie market is heavily saturated with reboots, remakes, sequels, spinoffs, and adaptations, and while nothing is stopping these films from telling creative and compelling stories that leave the audience satisfied, each of them is still dependent on some other existing franchise, character, or intellectual property. No matter what new twist or soaring cinematographic element the directing team and actors bring, they can uniformly skip the initial step of devising a new world and set of characters from nothing. There’s always an older franchise to mimic, remake, or sequel. 

Providence Place is also showing another film right now, produced by the independent company A24, called Everything Everywhere All at Once, which I went to see last week after hearing a few good reviews. The film follows Evelyn Wang, an overwhelmed laundromat owner, her husband Waymond, and their college-aged daughter Joy, portrayed by Stephanie Hsu. Evelyn and Waymond, played by Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan, left China together as young adults to move to the United States, defying Evelyn’s parents and temporarily rupturing her relationship with them. This theme of rupture—between generations, between couples, between worlds—anchors the film. 

Everything Everywhere All at Once is not a remake or a sequel; it’s an original film, built on an idea that the directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan have been cultivating since 2010. Like all stories, it takes inspiration from stories before it—the breakthrough animated Into the Spiderverse and the children’s book Sylvester the Magic Pebble, to start. Unlike all stories, though, Everything Everywhere All at Once is both emotionally compelling and amusing, visually stunning and acted with grace, original and relatable, and all-around excellent. 

This is a wacky film. It’s been promoted as an interdimensional action flick, but the first twenty minutes present a humdrum family drama. We follow the Wangs through the tedium and toil of everyday life, as the cracks in their family dynamic begin to show through: Evelyn and Waymond’s business is being audited by the IRS. The opening scene reveals Waymond is planning to file for divorce from his wife. Evelyn’s cantankerous father is visiting for a New Year’s party that seems doomed to fail. And Evelyn refuses to acknowledge her daughter’s sexuality or girlfriend. The weight of expectations and strain on the family is crystal clear in the image of hundreds of paper receipts Evelyn must bring to the audit, piling up on the kitchen table.

Twenty more minutes in, however, and the world around them begins to change. The multiverse arrives; the chaos kicks in. With a decade of research and ideation, Directors Daniel and Daniel have constructed a unique take on the multiverse concept. Coupled with stunning visuals and cinematography and the Russos’ (the people behind Avengers: Infinity War) production company, the multiversal world becomes a colorful, almost-too-real slew of possibilities, beyond overwhelming. While I won’t spoil how the movie unfolds, I will say that the creativity and care that went into building this messy, fractured world are more than apparent. 

But flashy design and world-building aside, the real heart of this movie is the performances by Yeoh, Quan, and Hsu. Nobody is phoning it in here. Yeoh brings grace and power to a strong-willed woman watching her reality unravel; Quan, in his first role in two decades, slips between iterations of himself with ease; and Hsu brings it home as the disaffected daughter (and so much more). And aside from a story of multiversal action and insanity, Everything Everywhere All at Once also tells the story of a Chinese-American family, representation that is often excluded from cinema or only included in identity-based stories. Writer R.F. Kuang discusses how this film treats diaspora and hybridity just as facts that exist, not as problems that must be addressed in the film. Mandarin and Cantonese (with English subtitles) are spoken freely by Evelyn, her father, and Waymond. Everything Everywhere All at Once is a film that tells a story about Chinese-American characters without having to make the story center on that fact. Everything Everywhere All at Once is the best movie I’ve seen in a long time. And though I’m more than excited to see another multiversal story in Doctor Strange: Multiverse of Madness premiering in theaters next week, I know it won’t have half the heart of this brave, original film, which dared to go big and absolutely hit the mark. I can’t recommend it enough.

Hi! I am a first-year student at Brown University, studying Literary Arts and Applied Mathematics. I'm a creative writer and an avid runner, and I love to study language from all angles. On the weekends, you can find me biking around Providence or exploring new food adventures.
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