There is so much to be cynical about. We are living through a period of cultural regression fueled by an angry and resentful right wing that is attacking reproductive rights, LGB and especially trans rights, and accurate writings of history which don’t shy away from painful histories of racism (“CRT” and “woke-ism”). The most popular art being produced in this era is the superhero movie generated by entertainment conglomerates that gobble up and exploit un-unionized artists1 to fix their shit and then ruin it by committee. These movies offer up soulless plots and nefarious military propaganda2. Pandering, un-challenging, empty shit that only serves to make the already wealthy into filthier and richer titans. And while our world is slipping into extremism, these superheroes look the other way. They won’t save us.
Everything Everywhere All at Once is a different kind of superhero movie. One about a middle-aged Chinese immigrant mother struggling to manage her relationship with her queer daughter, her misunderstood husband, her elderly father, and her unresolved self and selves. But it’s not just that; it’s also a family drama. It’s also martial arts action movie. It’s also a sci-fi movie about the multiverse. It’s also an absurdist comedy. It’s also an emotional crucible (part of the early word-of-mouth hype centered its ability to make you cry3). It does all of this exceptionally well.
But the movie is also incredibly unlikely. It is a strange choice for the most nominated film at the 2023 Academy Awards4. Especially for a movie that is seemingly unconcerned with garnering accolades or playing the awards game . It is not a “serious” movie in the sense of what an “Oscars film” is. But I don’t fully believe that the film is out of place in its tier of nominations. In fact, I believe the the movie is deeply under-considered. I see EEAAO as an artistically resonant and timely response to the Superhero Industrial Complex. The goofiness, the slick action sequences, and the sentimentality are all there. But instead of feeling like an algorithmically generated rehash, EEAAO does it all with real stakes. With queer characters that can’t be scrubbed out for international release. With real, under-told stories of inter-cultural and inter-generational understanding. With a sense that it was made by a team of passionate artists playing outside the lines. EEAAO is a gauntlet thrown to the franchise machine. Made with only $25M (a small, but not miniscule budget), filmed in a shocking 38 days, and with a cast of overlooked talent. It is a Marvel how it beat the content factories at their own game.
This is the story of a girl who cried a river and drowned the whole world. What makes Jobu Tupaki so undeniable is that she isn’t really the villain. In fact, there’s a real streak of heroism in her- a heroism that is challenging and hard to take at times. Through her rage, flamboyant defiance, and bitter self-destruction, she acts out on a queer power fantasy that only villainy can truly access. She is burning the world that burned her first, self-medicating with anger. As a queer person, it is hard not to cheer her on or feel like you are, at least in some part, capable of the same terror. “I wasn’t looking for you so I could kill you,” Jobu says. “I was just looking for someone who could see what I see, feel what I feel.”
These complex character beats are landed with a stunning amount of charisma by Stephanie Hsu. Her now famous audition tape5 was later confirmed by Daniels to be integral in changing how they see the character6.
Jobu’s first introduction is literally cloaked in mystery. Introduced as a multiversal cult leader, this costume defies grand expectations and puts Jobu on human scale. Or is she human? This outfit was designed by Claudia Li7, who also designed Bagel Goddess Jobu’s skirt.
After literally blowing Evelyn’s mind in the communication realm, Jobu’s look transforms into the aunty-fied version of her tartan look. She wears a floral visor, surgical mask, campy 70s floral scarf and exaggerated lapel blouse with a blue floral vest. It is a glorious send up of the kind of Asian-American elder street style captured in Chinatown Pretty8.
In the hallway scene, Jobu is introduced in all of her power. Her nihilism and omnipotence pairs nicely with her refusal to be a boring, dark villain. Instead, her chaotic mischief is more akin to Bugs Bunny. This living cartoon character comes to life with all the scary implications that holds for the fabric of reality wearing thin. Her rapidly changing looks signal her weariness with the mundane and tap into the radical possibility of meaninglessness. There is an emptiness of the signs and signifiers she casually throws out. She is both a child that’s acting out and a terrifyingly slippery supervillain.
Jobu ends the hallway scene with an eerie string of monologues. Costume designer Shirley Kurata places Jobu in a pink and white golf ensemble. It is both surreal and banal, amplifying the scariness with maybe the ultimate symbol of misanthropy- white, upper class leisurewear.
Joy’s first look shows her hiding in a sweatshirt and flannel. Joy/Jobu’s pink and red embroidered floral western slash-pocket shirt over a multicolor stripe hints at Jobu’s influence on her.
Jobu channels high priestess at the bagel cult headquarters. She wears a dress seemingly made of shiny PU spandex (“stretch vinyl”), a ruffle collar on top of a pearl collar, and pearl and crystal accents alongside white gloves and a lace train.
Alongside the Elvis costume, Bagel Jobu is the film’s most recognizable look. With all the camp and reference-heavy ensembles, it is nice to see a look that is so otherworldly glamorous. For me, this look makes good on the promise of an interdimensional cult leader/goddess that was promised in the beginning.
One of my favorite Jobu looks. At the near climax of her losing it, she wears the bright and colorful Jeremy Scott x Adidas teddybear hoodie paired with decora hair clips and glitter makeup. The best detail? The 90s Britney mic. Premiering near the end of the movie, this shows Jobu as a bit more run down and tired- her glittery makeup making her look sickly.
Jumble Jobu is an easy costume to read- she’s worn down, discombobulated, and nearly gone. It contains small pieces from previous costumes, but the fabrics are all new, so it’s not an amalgamation of all the previous looks. Would that have been cool? Yes, but that’s not what it is. Instead, this reads like an inability to assemble anything more- the end of the road of infinity. It also reads like a very young person playing dress-up- a colorful explosion of childlike energy putting together pieces that don’t fit. It could also look like a jumble of clothes in the dryer, stuck together with static electricity.
I’ve also included two rare Jobus that I only caught by combing thru the movie scene-by-scene. This film is filled with interesting costume moments that deserve more time to be seen.
This jacket is from Commes des Garçons11.
Everything Everywhere All at Once is an easy movie to root for. Not just for awards, but in general. I hope it inspires people to ask more from the media they consume and those who make it. As stated in the introduction, there’s a big disparity between the world that exists on screen vs real life. We deserve superheroes who don’t turn their back on us to keep bigots comfortable. We deserve heroes with something to say about our own world, who can stare into the problem, googly eyed and all, and lead. Because of this, I believe that it’s less of an ideal and more of a moral obligation to divest as much as you can from megacorp entertainment. As fans of sci-fi and fantasy, we know that the genre is most commonly produced by those big-budget interests.
So much of Everything Everywhere‘s meta-story is about awards, speeches, and the struggle for recognition. I think we’re all adults who can understand that awards only go so far, but it is still nice to see this project and the people involved get their shine. In re-watching the film for the third time in order to screencap it, I found myself struck by the depth of the performances. Ke as the emotional heart, Michelle’s unflinching commitment to a difficult role, and Stephanie’s raw talent filling up the role like water in a glass overflowing. “It’s a dream come true to take talented people and show the world that they have more to offer,” Daniel Sheinert said in an interview with Variety12. “There are so many Ke Quans out there.”
Everything Everywhere All at Once is currently available for rent/purchase at your platform of choice.
1 Vulture- “Marvel VFX Workers on ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania”
2 Gamerant- “The Marvel Military Propaganda Criticism, Explained”
3 Tik Tok Search- “Everything Everywhere before after”
4 Variety- “Oscar Nominations 2023: ‘Everything Everywhere’ Leads With 11 Nods…”
5 Deadline Hollywood Youtube channel- “Stephanie Hsu ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’ Audition”
6 Daniels Twitter account- “Jobu was a different character before Hsu’s audition…”
7 Fashionista- “The Costumes in ‘Everything Everywhere’…”
8 The Cut- A Joyful Celebration of Chinatown’s Stylish Seniors
9 Hollywood Reporter- “Breaking Down Stephanie Hsu’s Chaotic Fashions…”
10 Vogue Singapore- “‘Everything Everywhere All At Once”s make-up artist…”
11 Insider- “‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ costume designer reveals…”
12 Variety- “How Michelle Yeoh Threatened ‘Everything Everywhere’ Directors…”
Also a lovely read: NYT- “The Costume Designer at the Center of the Universes”