djmark’s review published on Letterboxd:
[The original one star rating here was reactionary towards the initial undeserved and unqualified praise this film received. Which is an unfair way to go about judging a film. That said, Everything Everywhere All at Once remains in many ways an overrated mess.
Perhaps never before has there been a more insistent fan base surrounding a film-- with many in the ranks claiming that any detractors are either trolling or just simply do not 'get it'. As though nihilism is a new theme and quantum theory is a new story device and each concept is just too beyond 'the haters' to grasp. There is nothing wrong with these ideas, of course. But supposing detractors cannot grasp them due to a lack of maturity is something else!
It is difficult to think of many other films that have such a condescending fan base. One that so vehemently concludes that a failure to enjoy a film which they enjoy is indicative of a personal shortcoming, be it intellectual or emotional. It's no small wonder so many detractors are making parallels between the film and Reddit. Some of these fans of the film are not so kind, themselves.]
Two immigrant tax cheats in charge of a laundry mat along with their self-important Americanized teenage daughter find themselves wrapped up in a convoluted science fiction set-up involving 'multiverse' travel that allows for an existential meditation on life. The film instructs the viewer that kindness and acceptance is important. (It couldn't be more on the nose.) Even though nothing matters. A novel take that no postgrad philosophy major has ever conjured up on a Reddit thread. So shallow, wishy washy and unforgivably smug humanist existentialism is the spirit of the film. Thus, Everything Everywhere All at Once is one of the most nihilistic films to ever receive such undeserved acclaim for its depth.
Nothing matters. But be nice! Or was it kind? Hell, give a guy with a specific sex kink a spank! It will help fix things (that we're explicitly told don't matter), dummy! It's a warm and fuzzy 'in the moment' message that really sticks with simpletons possessing hummingbird-level attention spans as some 'solution' to existential dread. It works as a kind of 'Jedi mind-trick' as long as the birds are chirping and the grass is green and the skies are blue and you're in the midst of a sitcom moment with a loved one. But the notion is subject to outright mockery when circumstances really turn against a person in the form of loss, tragedy, or when one has to endure specific varieties of pain and suffering fortunate people can scarcely imagine-- horrific inevitabilities in life for at least some that go well beyond "my working class immigrant tiger mother is not accepting ENOUGH of my lesbian relationship".
A mere lonely person with NO relationship elicits more sympathy for existential dread than a brat like the daughter, Joy. Will 'be kind' end the dread for someone with no one? It won't do anything for a Travis Bickle type. A film that aspires to dig deep on the human condition needs more honesty and cinematic beauty and less obviousness and forced 'moments' sandwiched between peepeepoopoo farts jokes and surrealist gimmickry for people with ADHD. While one can empathize with the protagonists and their circumstances as presented to a degree, is Evelyn's 'eureka' moment on how to handle everything in the film not a bit reductionist when it comes to addressing how much of a bitch life can be for different people? And in the case of Joy, younger people used to be mocked as being 'emo' when issues like hers were the source of their misery. Now, such petulant anguish is treated with inexplicable reverence that can answer the meaning of life for people. So the existential anguish as well as the film's answer to such is pure pap.
Incidentally, there are good films out there that can be interpreted as nihilistic that nonetheless possess a kind of magnetism by virtue of the artistry a talented filmmaker can summon to capture some kind of humanity and pathos. In fact, there are too many to name. THIS film lacks any subtlety or artistry in the service of such ends. It's about as subtle as Bozo The Clown in everything it sets out to do. Which is insulting when a film's aspirations are so explicitly philosophical and didactic.
So not only is the message of it all trite and arguably just plain nonsense, the filmcraft involved in delivering the message leaves a lot to be desired. There is good acting in the film-- Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, James Hong, Jamie Lee Curtis-- when the screenplay permits the actors to behave like actual human beings and not drugged up lab rats frantically running around licking snot and pulling objects out of rectums. Perhaps glimpses of that very able acting together with the vapid 'shiny shiny' gimmickry on display here manipulates many a viewer into thinking this is a great film with something important to say. But any talent among the cast themselves is wasted on a backdrop of lame, tedious humor (everyone rightfully mentions the 'hotdog fingers') and embarrassingly amatuerish 'insights' about the human condition. By the time characters are portrayed as actual rocks, a fair-minded viewer would understandably wonder if an elaborate joke was being had at his expense.
It's not a sin to make a film with a simple message. But this effort is as far as it gets from 'slice of life'. It's pretentious. And when a film is this pretentious, it needs to have more to say than a Coca-Cola commercial. The Matrix was pretentious and full of action but, unlike Everything Everywhere All at Once, it had the SUBSTANCE to compliment its stylistic ambitions and explicit philosophical messaging. This film is no Matrix. Or at the very least, a film-- regardless of style-- should aim to showcase a theme more poetically and less explicitly than a sappy and pedestrian sitcom like Modern Family. At the end of the day, Everything Everywhere All at Once is tired existential masturbation with a Hallmark card bow on it at the end passing itself off as some sort of 'powerful' form of enlightenment. This one is for the birds!