The first time someone raved to me about seeing Everything Everywhere All at Once, I thought they were actually suggesting I see everything everywhere all at once, and I was briefly excited by the implication that this exhilarating possibility was somehow on the table.

After that disappointment I heard about it several times more, and warmed to the idea of seeing the movie anyway, especially on account of it being the most roundly recommended one I remember. The third time someone invited me to see it with them, I went.

And it seemed so astonishingly lacking to both of us that I left severely confused, and remain so. Like: I know people have different tastes. I know that I’m not the biggest movie appreciator (my ideal movie probably has a small number of visually distinct characters and nobody dies or does anything confusing, and I’ve already seen it twice). But usually I have some abstract guess about what other people are liking. Or, more realistically, a name for the category of mysterious attraction (“ah yes, you are into the ‘action’, and that means it’s good when helicopters crash or people shoot each other”). Yet here, I’m grasping even for that. “You like it because.. it has much more prolonged fighting than usual and you like fighting?…or…it is some kind of irony thing about other movies?” I could believe that it was some kind of mediocre action movie. But usually my friends don’t go crazy for mediocre action movies. And here for instance one of my best friends, who I generally take to have subtle and sensitive and agreeable tastes, and who knows me extremely well, told me in particular to see it. And the strongest criticism I have seen of it outside of our post-movie discussion is another friend’s apparently sincere complaint on Facebook that it is probably only among the top hundred movies ever, not the top ten like people say. And it’s not that I just wasn’t wowed by it: it’s hard to remember the last time I was less compelled by a movie. (Though perhaps one doesn’t remember such things.) Like, I was really sitting there in the cinema thinking something along the lines of, ‘movies usually grab my attention somehow, yet this is doing some special thing differently to not have that happen? Huh?’

I don’t know if I can spoil this movie, because whatever was good in it, I totally missed. But here I attempt spoilers. This is what happens in the movie, as far as I can tell:

(Ok my companion and I actually failed to notice when it started, so maybe there was something important there. Oops.)

A woman and her family run a laundromat, and are also working on their taxes. Her life is disappointing to her. A version of her husband appears from a different dimension and relays some kind of dimly coherent plot involving lots of dimensions and the need for her to jump between them and fight or something. Then they fight and jump between dimensions for about two hours. Their fighting involves some repeating motifs: 1) There is a humorous conceit that in order to jump between dimensions you have to do a strange action, for instance bite off and chew some lip balm. This joke is repeated throughout most of the fighting. One time the traveler has to put an object up their bottom, so that is pretty exciting humorwise. 2) Things often look cool. Like, there are lots of evocative objects and people are wearing make-up and neat costumes. 3) There is lots of jumping between dimensions. At some point it becomes clear that a baddie is actually the woman’s daughter, who has turned to nihilism as a result of either seeing everything all at once and that being kind of intrinsically nihilism-provoking due to its lack of permitting anything else, or as a result of having her lesbianism disrespected by her mother earlier. The fighting takes on a more nihilism vs. appreciating life flavor, and then it turns out that being friendly and warm is good, as represented by the father, and now appreciated by the mother. Then…actually I forget what happens at the end, sorry.

I’m all for ‘nihilism vs. something something existential something something, life, kindness’ as a theme, but this seemed like such a shallow treatment of it. It just seemed like a bunch of fighting labeled ‘deep plot about nihilism etc’, and I don’t think caused me to have any interesting thoughts about such themes, except perhaps by reminding me of the general topic and leaving me without anything to distract my mind from wandering.

It was clearly too violent for my liking, so that’s idiosyncratic, but it’s not like I’m always opposed to violence—some of the fighting in Lord of the Rings was quite moving, and I watched the whole of Game of Thrones in spite of also at other times using scenes from it in exposure therapy. But I posit that you need some sort of meaningful context to make violence interesting or moving, and I don’t think I caught that.

I also speculate that some humor is meant to come from the protagonist being a middle aged immigrant Chinese woman, instead of the more standard young man. Which seems rude: as though it is asking for the props generally offered for featuring atypical demographics in films, yet is doing so as a joke.

In sum, it seemed to me to be a bunch of fairly meaningless fighting interspersed with repetitive lowbrow humor and aesthetically pleasing props.

I asked a couple of my friends to explain their alternate takes to me, but I don’t think I can do their explanations justice, due to not really understanding them. At a high level they disagreed with me about things like ‘was it extremely humorous?’ and ‘was it unusually engaging vs. unusually unengaging?’, but I didn’t understand why, at a lower level. Probably we all agree that it was visually cool, but I wasn’t actually stunned by that. Maybe visual attractiveness alone counts for less with me (though I recently saw Everything is Illuminated, which I found awesome in a confusingly soul-electrifying way and whose merit seems somehow related to visualness). One interesting thing that this discussion with EEAAO appreciators added was the point that there is something moving about the thought that in a different dimension you and the odious tax lady might be tender lovers. I agree that that’s a nice thought.

I am hesitant to criticize here, because it is sweet of my friends to try to give me a nice movie recommendation, and I appreciate it. Also, I think in general that if Alice loves a thing and Bob doesn’t, it is much more likely that Bob is missing something wonderful than that Alice is imagining such a thing. (Though conversely if they agree that the thing is pretty good in ways, and Bob just hates it because it also has some overriding problem, then my guess would be the reverse: probably Alice is missing a thing.)

So probably, somehow, other people are right. Please other people, help enlighten me more? (And thanks to some of my friends for trying!)