Cinema is a beautiful medium that allows stories to visually explore universal truths of life, the struggles we all face as human beings. A lonely journey through space symbolizes the grieving process for Ryan as she copes with the loss of her daughter in Gravity. The alien invasion in The World’s End challenges Gary’s notion of life-fulfillment and forces him to grow up. The grand interweaving dream-within-a-dream of Mulholland Drive represents the pressures of Hollywood and the consequences it can have on people. These tales come to represent our desire to grow, to expand, to evolve in a world that feels like it’s increasingly working against us.
This is the exact reason people seem to love Everything Everywhere All at Once. It’s also the reason why I think it falls way way way short of having the same impact as any of the above mentioned movies, which all explore their stories with care and nuance and subtlety. Everything Everywhere All at Once is the exact opposite of subtle, as it so candidly adopts this model to the degree where it loses any and all emotion about 45 minutes in.
Life didn’t turn out the way Evelyn envisioned…and that’s about the extent of it. Aren’t we all dissatisfied with our lives from time to time? Don’t we all wonder what would have happened if we dated this person or took that job or made that other decision? You’d think something so simple and relatable would be a perfect fit for a defamiliarized tale. Yet Everything Everywhere All at Once just beats you over the head with the same point ad nauseam.
If I could give movies a passing grade for effort, I would. But effort actually works in the opposite direction for this film, as nearly two-and-a-half hours of non-stop cuts and settings and colors and character beats does nearly nothing to advance the central theme of the film. It’s all for show, and it left me feeling nothing by the end.
I know I will get pushback on this, as Everything Everywhere All at Once seems to be everybody’s favorite movie of the year. People will say, “How can you hate on a movie that’s trying this hard and doing this much?” Look, I think there are great parts in this movie and people are giving it their all. The acting, the directing, the settings and costumes and sounds—it’s all great. But I profoundly reject the notion that Everything Everywhere All at Once simply “tries harder” than a movie like Kimi or Morbius or Dog. I refuse to be that narrow-minded and oblivious when it comes to the beautiful art of cinema.
Even the simplest of movies that are missing the fast-paced editing and world building and character catalog of Everything Everywhere All at Once have just as much capability to explore the universal truths of life. Most people don’t even realize what movies like Gravity or The World’s End or Mulholland Drive are doing at a thematic level. But we know what Everything Everywhere All at Once is doing because…it tells us. Over. And over. And over. This movie has about seven monologues where a character philosophizes about life in several different settings cleanly edited together in the exact same way every single time—and I’m supposed to accept that this movie tries harder than other movies? No. No way.
Perhaps modern cinema isn’t the problem. Maybe everybody who makes a movie is giving their all and trying to say something. Maybe, instead, it’s the way we’ve chosen to watch movies and think about movies that’s the problem. I don’t think Everything Everywhere All at Once is a bad movie. But it sure as heck isn’t above and beyond everything else.
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