What am I to make of Everything Everywhere All at Once’s huge victory at the Oscars on Sunday? As expected, the film was the night’s big winner. Seven awards, including Oscars for best picture, best director, best actress, best supporting actress and best supporting actor. Congratulations to the winners. My only problem is that I watched part of the movie and walked out. I deemed it trash.
If you have not seen the film, don’t. It is described as a “gonzo adventure of a Chinese-American laundromat owner grappling with an IRS audit and interdimensional attackers.” The film is technically science-fiction but also could be described as a light-duty martial arts movie with gratuitous gun violence as a bonus. I describe it as a tedious two- hour long Saturday Night Live skit gone wrong.
My views, I suppose, reflect the fact that I am not a teenager and, until last night, naively assumed the purpose of the Oscars is to recognize excellence. Everything Everywhere now will take its place next to Citizen Kane, The Godfather, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Schindler’s List, Moonlight, Casablanca, and It Happened One Night. Somehow these and other more serious firms have been degraded. Their Oscar wins seem less impressive.
What happened? For one thing, Everything Everywhere generated interest as a film with a largely Asian cast. (Michelle Yeoh is Malaysian.) A story in the Sunday New York Times reported “Asian actors have been nearly invisible at the Oscars.” That’s a true statement, a failing that demands correction. But was giving Everything Everywhere seven Oscars the way to address the problem? With apologies to the film’s winners, I would have preferred the Oscar academy to wait for a better film.
If you haven’t seen Everything Everywhere, prepare for what might be charitably described as “a challenging experience.” What the film is about is not immediately clear. Whether the movie is a comedy, science fiction, a martial arts film, or some sort of avant-garde art film is not clear. The acting is good, but, given the chaotic storytelling, it is difficult to judge whether it is great. And the special effects, apparently necessary for the “battle to save the multiverse” part of the film, are second class.
One part of the film, the initial confrontation between the IRS agent played by Jamie Lee Curtis and Michelle Yeoh, is particularly Saturday Night Live-like. Curtis, barely recognizable, portrays the IRS agent as a mentally ill bureaucrat. I wonder whether the union representing IRS agents (and other federal employees) will complain.
I like Jamie Lee Curtis and am happy she won an Oscar, but giving her the award was a slap in the face to other actresses in the category of supporting actress. Angela Basset, who clearly expected to win, did not rise when Curtis’ win was announced. I do not blame her. I don’t know whether Bassett deserved to win, but it is hard to imagine that she didn’t deserve the award more than Curtis.
I also watched Steven Spielberg as he sat through the awards ceremony. He knew his autobiographical film, The Fabelmans, wasn’t going to win. His image was flashed when Everything Everywhere’s win was announced. You could imagine him wondering what he has to do to ever win another Oscar. The academy owes Spielberg, and a lot of other people, apologies.
The Fabelmans is a great film. I recommend it. I also recommend Tár, the Kate Blanchett film about a troubled classical music conductor. Blanchett deserved to win the best actress award. Tár was serious filmmaking. Apparently that no longer is enough to win an Oscar.
One other award, one not given to Everything Everywhere, is worth mentioning. Brendan Fraser won the award for best actor. I can’t say he earned it because I haven’t seen the performances of all the other nominees. I noted, however, that The Whale won for the best make-up. Brendan Fraser plays a morbidly obese man. When the make-up award was announced, we learned that much of Fraser’s makeup was “digital.” Does that mean that we were watching some sort of special effect as opposed to Fraser? That is a question worth asking, even while recognizing Fraser’s performance as a great one.
It is too early to say I will not tune into next year’s Oscar ceremony, but chances are that I will not.
J.E. Dean is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, and other subjects.