nicole cadelina’s review published on Letterboxd:
For a film that preaches about kindness and love, people who defend Everything Everywhere All at Once to the ends of the earth have been far from kind. We’re in a decade now where people can call you a “race traitor” just for being an Asian person who is critical about tokenistic, fetishised representation of Asians in film and TV. It’s so clear to me that the Daniels has made Asian identity palatable to both white audiences and Asians whose identities are adjacent to whiteness — however, I’ve seen dear friends of the diaspora love this film for what it is. So how do I best approach my criticisms without invalidating the experiences of other people?
For now, let me exhaust every morsel of honesty out of my system. I want to make one thing clear to my white/non-Asian followers: this film is not and never will be emblematic of the entire Asian diasporic experience. EEAAO is a film predicated on boba liberal propaganda, dissolving the Chinese American experience into tokenistic Asian stereotypes about Asian tiger mothers, their soft husbands, their stubborn daughters, and intergenerational traumas. In a new decade where the Asian diaspora is finally speaking up about “breaking generational trauma,” Hollywood seems to have offered up a quick-fix solution in the form of quirky, absurdist films about coping with helicopter parenting and forcing immigrant parents to assimilate into liberalism, without contextualising collectivism and its roots in Eastern thought. First it’s Turning Red. Now it is the Daniels. This solution is not only liberal, but it is also deeply neoliberal. Once you think about it, you realise that such films are the cinematic equivalent of a self-help book; millennials hear rave reviews about something, and they willingly throw money at it, mistaking the fleeting moment of security and affirmation as a quick and easy fix to all their problems.
The truth is: there is no quick and easy fix to generational traumas. It differs from person to person, from circumstance to circumstance, culture to culture. Cinema has the capacity to validate your experiences, and for those who felt seen with this, I won’t hold it against you. However, for me, I refuse to fall into Hollywood’s spellbinding, commercial trap of having my problems seen and advertised into shallow multiverses. I also refuse to have Hollywood profit off my issues either — it’s hard enough living in a capitalist realism state that seeks to privatise mental health. It seems that bagels, buttplugs, and hotdog fingers are like the present-day essential oils and Kmart crystals that are emblematic of spiritual/emotional bypassing. This film tells you to be kind, let go, and spread love; yet I’ve seen people who’ve become hostile over others who either hated this film or offer valid criticisms. Anyone who decides to insult me with ad hominems in the comments will simply prove my point about this film’s ephemeral burst of enlightenment.
As much as it is about a working-class Chinese American family life, the Daniels do very little to interrogate the distinctions between diaspora and homeland. There’s Chinese New Year and Mandarin, but that’s really where it stops. There’s little context behind why older Chinese ancestors cannot open themselves up to queerness — which this article does, by highlighting the ways in which the country’s nationalism is rooted in societal reproduction and patriarchy. Eastern countries have their own issues with collectivism and nationalism — so why can’t Western countries admit to their own blemishes with liberalism and individualism? I guess it’s because it stays committed to its own nihilism about how nothing matters. East and West no longer matters, the same way Chinese identity doesn’t matter for the sake of pan-Asian appeal and so-called Asian representation.
On a substance level, this film felt more closely akin to a YouTube Original film — which I guess has its charm, especially if you grew up with webseries by the likes of Dr Horrible or Video Game High School. Much of the credit goes to the manic editing and larger-than-life production level, but I’m aware that it’s the Daniels’ cosmetic way of painting liberalism as progressive and oh-so pretty. The yellow subtitles remind me of SBS Movies, and I liked that. But that’s about it. I don’t know what else is there to say — all the good has been said, and all the bad has been said. Beyond the Asian cast, I wasn’t too sure how this film was any different from its predecessors; the contemporaries being Marvel films and Rick and Morty…
…is it the diet Wong Kar-Wai homage? Yeah, nah I won’t get started on that.
Maybe the multiverse narrative is unique when it hinges on an Asian American family, because tokenising Asian identities is like some new innovative tool? Hmm…
Above everything else, EEAAO has been an exercise in spectatorship. I was tempted to end this review with “all my Asian friends who loved EEAAO need to let go of their Western biases.” But it’s not that easy lol. On one hand, there are those who did not feel represented by the Daniels’ blatant boba liberalism and tokenistic depictions of Asianness by way of tropes and stereotyping. But on the other hand, I know Asian friends who connected with this work; friends who are as critical of boba liberalism as I am; friends who are queer and struggle with living under circumstances that are far from ideal; friends who are deeply connected to their Asian culture and their homeland; friends who see Asian identity beyond its tokenism. So in all my criticisms, is it right for me to invalidate their experience? Is it right for me to tell them that they shouldn’t love this work? That it’s wrong for them to identify with such tokenistic displays of Asianness? That they’re not allowed to give money to such (neo)liberal works of film? That they’re blind to the stereotypes? That loving this film would make them a hypocrite?
It’s a hard question to answer. My friends’ love for EEAAO are just as valid as those who criticise the film. The fact that I reflect more on this film’s boba liberalism than its narrative and formalism is rather telling of where I sit with this film. I really do want the best in Asian representation; it’s difficult to imagine Michelle Yeoh’s stage direction as nothing more than “act like a typical Asian mum.” I’m worried for this new age of accented cinema that is increasingly neoliberal and tokenistic. Again, I won’t hold it against anyone who connected deeply with this film, but sadly I just can’t see it speaking for myself. If anyone still doesn’t understand where I’m coming from, please refer to all the reviews written by other race traitors (charot) who gave it <2.5 stars.
Shout out to [REDACTED] on Discord for dropping this film in the catalogues.