LOS ANGELES – Hot dogs for fingers, plastic googly eyes and conversing rocks are hardly staples of mainstream movie-making. Yet, they have became cultural touchstones of Everything Everywhere All at Once, the at-times baffling and absurdist film that has captivated Hollywood.
The science-fiction kung fu comedy starring Michelle Yeoh as an exhausted laundromat owner who is simply trying to file her taxes has swept the major awards leading to the Oscars on Sunday (March 12), making it the front-runner for the prestigious Best Picture prize.
Yeoh plays Evelyn Wang, a Chinese-American woman who is at odds with her husband, father, daughter and a frumpy tax auditor named Deirdre Beaubeirdre played by movie veteran Jamie Lee Curtis.
Wang fights alongside, or against, all of them in alternate universes filled with oddities such as people with hot dogs for fingers and a chef with a raccoon under his hat.
Plastic googly eyes and a giant everything bagel also play important roles.
The drastic departure from traditional storytelling is one of the reasons for its appeal, said Claudette Godfrey, who chose the movie to open the SXSW Film Festival last year.
"I think people are really hungry to see something they haven't seen before, and something that's exciting or engaging them in a new way," Godfrey said.
Everything Everywhere will compete for Best Picture against blockbuster films Top Gun: Maverick, Avatar: The Way of Water and Elvis, plus a German remake of All Quiet on the Western Front, among others.
Hollywood producers, actors, writers and directors have already given their top prizes to Everything Everywhere at awards ceremonies that lead up to the Oscars.
The movie also earned the love of cinemagoers, bringing in $105 million (S$142 million) at global box offices, more than quadruple its $25 million production cost.
Embracing Asian cast
Alison Willmore, film critic for New York magazine and Vulture, said the movie succeeded because it tells a relatable story about mundane stresses, and the disconnect within different generations of an immigrant family, through the language of today's pop culture.
"It is using all of this apparatus of big storytelling that we've been kind of very accustomed to," Willmore said. "The language of saving the world, and being the chosen one and universe hopping."
"Bringing that large scale to bear on this very small story, I think that is really what has swept people up," she added.
The movie also came at a time when audiences were ready to embrace a predominantly Asian cast in a different type of story, said Akira Mizuta Lippit, cinema and media studies professor at the University of Southern California.
"The Asian Americans context has been a sleeping giant for a long time. People have been predicting that this moment would come. It just never really seemed to come," Lippitt said.
That started to change with hits such as 2018's Crazy Rich Asians and Marvel's Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings in 2021, as well as more Asian actors on television, including Mindy Kaling in The Mindy Project and Awkwafina in Nora from Queens.
"Some of the moulds, some of the very typical conventions of what an Asian American film is like, what it looks like, what the topics are, all that is changing," Lippit added.
Even with its success, some of the movie's fans admit being befuddled at times. Star James Hong alluded to the confusion when the movie was honoured at the Screen Actors Guild awards.
"Did you understand all of it?" Hong, who played Yeoh's elderly father in the film, asked the crowd.
"Well, go see it a second and third time and maybe you'll understand," he said.