In March 2022, Mya McGrath walked into the movie theater unsure what to expect from the film she was about to watch. A few hours later, she left the theater sobbing.
The theater was showing the 2022 science fiction film “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” which centers Evelyn Wang, a fictional 55-year-old Chinese immigrant. In the film, she faces the stresses of managing a struggling laundromat business, failing marriage, judgmental father and rebellious daughter.
The A24 movie secured 11 Oscar nominations Jan. 23, including four for actors of Asian descent and one for its Asian director.
“‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ was too big to ignore,” McGrath said.
Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh, who plays the movie’s protagonist, Evelyn, is nominated for Best Lead Actress; Vietnamese-American actor Ke Huy Quan, who plays Evelyn’s husband, Waywond, is nominated for Best Supporting Actor; Chinese-American actress Stephanie Hsu, who plays Evelyn’s daughter, Joy, is nominated for Best Supporting Actress; and Chinese-American film director Daniel Kwan is nominated for Best Director.
McGrath, a 20-year-old UF psychology sophomore, said she cried for multiple reasons, one being that she saw her Japanese mother through Evelyn.
McGrath’s mother left her family in Japan to go to the U.S. with an American man, McGrath’s father. Her mother had taken a risk leaving Japan, she said, knowing she had no family in the U.S. to support her.
In the film, Evelyn discovers a multiverse leading her to several different versions of herself had she made different choices throughout her life, and she becomes the only person who can stop the malignant forces coming from the multiverse to save the world.
As she travels through the multiverse, she comes across different versions of herself who hadn’t immigrated to the U.S. and seemed more fortunate than she was.
“I definitely see my mom’s struggle of, ‘What if I had stayed [in Japan]?’” McGrath said.
Evelyn and her daughter’s struggle to connect and understand one another in the movie reminded McGrath of her own relationship with her mother, she said.
“Even though they clash, they get their message across to each other eventually,” she said.
McGrath said she thinks the film deals with this mother-daughter issue of connection more realistically than other films that immediately follow opening up about one’s feelings with resolution and acceptance.
Rather than ending the movie with complete understanding between Evelyn and her daughter, Joy, McGrath said, it ends with the message that love is about people choosing to stay by someone’s side despite the disagreements they may have.
Ying Xiao, a UF associate professor of global Chinese studies and film and media studies, also noticed the importance of connection in the film. She said sympathy and kindness among the characters is what helped them find their solution.
The film explores the story of a Chinese immigrant family, but it isn’t exclusive to the experiences of Asians and Asian Americans, Xiao said.
Evelyn’s encounter with other versions of herself in the film are reminiscent of how everyone — Asian or not — has different layers to their identity, she said. It’s a universal story about finding oneself and self-fulfillment, she said, as everyone can struggle or feel lost like Evelyn in this complicated world.
Though the movie may relate to more than just Asian viewers, it’s deeply rooted in Asian American tradition and Asian film, Xiao said.
“Its success really testified to these dynamics and energy of Asian cinema,” she said.
Yeoh, who has 40 years of acting experience, is the first Asian performer to be nominated for Best Leading Actress at the Academy Awards since 1935.
Xiao was happy that Yeoh was finally getting recognized all over the world, she said, even though she is a long-lasting icon in Asian cinema.
“She has been successful in many films prior to this,” Xiao said. “Yet, she was able to play this very complex, refined role in ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once.’”
Lauren Shee, a 20-year-old UF digital arts and sciences sophomore, said she saw the movie with her Malaysian father, who recognized Yeoh from the media he grew up watching. She felt proud that a film that reminded her of her own family was getting acknowledged by the academy, she said.
Shee saw her father through the character Waymond, she said, as her father always tried to mellow things out if there was tension in the family.
Unlike the stereotypical depiction of toxic fathers in some films, she said, Waymond was kind and understanding like her own father.
With the spotlight on “Everything Everywhere All at Once” as it leads the 2023 Oscar race, Asians like McGrath and Shee said they feel the motivation to become who they wish to be more than ever.
Quan, who plays Waymond, quit acting in 2002 after he couldn’t find any work. It wasn’t until he saw the success of the 2018 film “Crazy Rich Asians” that he wanted to act again, he said in an interview with Variety.
Similarly, McGrath said the message she took away from “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” which is that people should unapologetically be who they wish to be, is what inspired her to do her projects.
“I didn’t think there’d be a day you can see yourself on screen,” Shee said. “You’re allowed to dream.”
Contact Zarin Ismail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @zarintismail.
Zarin Ismail is a second-year journalism major and a staff writer for the Avenue. She has previously worked as a copy editor for The Alligator. She's also a writer for Strike Magazine. When she’s not writing, Zarin watches international TV shows, shops at thrift stores and plays with her two cats.