Everything Everywhere All at Once Worst Best Picture Ever



Directed by Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert

A24 Films, 132 minutes, R (language, gross-out humor, drug use, violence)



Oscar Best Picture winners are often mysterious. How did the Academy prefer My Fair Lady over Becket or Dr. Strangelove in 1964, or Kramer vs. Kramer over Apocalypse Now in 1979? Sometimes the bar is dropped lower to honor such now embarrassing choices such as Rocky (1975), Terms of Endearment (1983), Forest Gump (1994), and Gladiator (2000), offerings that were little more than a decent way to while away a few hours.


This brings me to Everything Everywhere All at Once, which holds the dubious honor of being the worst choice ever made by the Academy. I hesitate even to call it a “movie;” it’s little more than a live-action video game as might have been developed by a novice gamer who lucked into a big budget.


Let’s get this out of the way. I like Michelle Yeoh a lot and it’s criminal she has had to play so many stereotypical roles. Still, I didn’t like her as a kung fu queen when she was 37 (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and I’m not buying it 23 years later. I also enjoy contemplating other dimensions and time periods in some movies–Donnie Darko, The Matrix, Source Code–and it would be hypocritical for me a Star Trek geek, to criticize science fiction. I even enjoy the Marvel universe in small doses, as in comic books and summer blockbusters.


Everything Everywhere doesn’t belong in the same category as any of the above. It has been variously labeled as "comedy drama," "sci-fi,” “fantasy,” “surrealism,” and “adventure.” Evelyn Wang (Yeoh) is an older and overwhelmed laundromat owner about to be served divorce papers by her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan). As if she needs more grief. She’s taking care of her demanding elderly father Gong Gong (James Hong), has an acrimonious relationship with her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hue) about to come out as a lesbian, hates customers like Big Nose,* and her business finances are such a mess that IRS auditor Deirdre Beaubeirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis) threatens government seizure of her assets.


This alone is material for a good movie, but directors Kwan and Scheinert, who inexplicably won Best Director Oscars–mucked up matters with an absurd–as opposed to absurdist–foray into the multiverse. Yeah, yeah, I know this is oh-so-trendy these days. That also makes it overdone enough to invite comparisons. Evelyn is somehow the key to making sure that Jobu Tupaki (Hsu) doesn’t unleash a singularity that might (it’s unclear) destroy all things, including various other dimensions in which the major characters appear in radically different roles. She, akin to Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey observations, is reluctant to take on the task. At the speed of a mouse click, she is shown alternative fates–opera singer, Deirdre’s hotdog-fingered lover, corpse, and Kung Fu mistress–at the speed of a mouse click. Some tempt her–shades of Matt Haig’s novel The Midnight Library–but her reluctance rises when she finds out that Joy is Jobu.


And now it’s time to ratchet the silliness quotient. How about another dimension where fingers are shaped like long, limp hotdogs? What if they turn into penises? How about bad guys who get energy to fight by lowering their pants to land upon phallic statues? Characters wear ear buds that activate dimensional shifts after the wearer swallows disgusting things and pushes a green button. (Repeat to supercharge powers as they wane.) Did I mention the Ratatouille spinoff involving a chef who hides his support/advisor raccoon under his toque blanche? Or that Yeoh and Curtis are rocks in one dimension? At some point the entire tenor of the movie changes and green buttons become “Google eyes” as the plot plods toward a Hallmark ending. And, yes, the singularity is actually a giant black bagel with everything? (Get it?)


Has American discourse degenerated to such depths that critics can actually say this movie probes issues of nihilism versus existentialism? Let’s be frank. This should be a summer movie that you attend with a few friends. Afterward the debate is between, “What was that mess?” versus “I dunno, I kind of liked it.” All I can think is that it must have looked a whole lot better on a smartphone screen. If this is what we can expect from the “new” Academy–lots of Millennials I gather–you can safely skip the Oscars from now on.


Rob Weir


* If you saw the film in a theater, “Big Nose” (Jenny Slate) was changed to “Debbie the Dog Mom,” after complaints that Slate’s character stereotyped Jews. It does, but the Academy overlooked that as well.


Lapvona: Brilliant or Distressing?


LAPVONA (2022)

By Ottessa Moshfegh

Penguin, 304 pages




Lapvona, the fourth novel of Boston-born novelist Ottessa Moshfegh, is a strange book. Moshfegh has an unapologetic taste for the macabre and unsavory, which means readers will be either thrilled or unnerved.


Lapvona references a small fiefdom whose outward setting is medieval, perhaps during the tail end of the Black Death. It’s also, though, a satirical allegory of capitalism and the ways in which corruption and community collide. Moshfegh is on record as saying if the book has a moral, it’s a rejection of the ancient Roman notion that human fate is controlled by Fortuna, the goddess of luck. In her worldview, belief in random fate is a convenient cover for conscious choice.


Moshfegh is a skilled stylist, but this doesn’t make her plotlines easy to decipher. She blends plausibility with elements suggestive of magical realism and delves into themes of superstition, dreaming, bewitching, and cannabis use. Lapvona also makes use of extended metaphors of sight versus blindness and the thinness of barriers between life and death and the natural and spirit worlds.


Marek is the centerpiece of the novel. He is the son of Jude, the village shepherd, who has mixed feelings about the physically deformed Marek. His ugliness is remarked upon by villagers–until it’s not. His lambs are Jude’s biggest love since his wife disappeared; he is deeply anguished whenever he must sell some of them for meat to mysterious Northerners.


Lapvona is controlled by Villiam, a local lord, who is vain, profligate, clueless, and corrupt. His son Jacob is Marek’s opposite: handsome, immaculate in dress, and well-educated. Marek and Jacob are also related despite their social gulf. Villiam really cares only for himself, so when Marek kills (accidently or not!) Jacob, Villiam simply takes Marek as his son. Other major characters include Villiam’s wife Dibra and her horseman lover Luka; Lispeth, who was betrothed to Jacob and becomes Marek’s resentful serving girl; Father Barnabas, a faithless priest interested in luxury and power; Agata, Jude’s ex-wife who reappears after 13 years; and Grigor, a peasant with contempt for the rich. Bandits also play a role, though they are undefined and may actually be in cahoots with Villiam. Finally, there is Ina, a blind old woman (witch?) who has never been pregnant yet has been a wet nurse for decades.


Like Monty Python’s Camelot, Lapvona is a land in which the powerful enjoy the fruits of life and the peasants stink from sweat and layers of various varieties of excrement. The book is arranged calendrically, from spring to spring. The first spring finds the land verdant, Jude cuddling his lambs, and Jude’s relief to be rid of Marek.




Summer invites Covid comparisons. A horrible drought parches the land and brings starvation, raids, decimation of pets and livestock, villagers reduced to eating mud, and cannibalism. Dibra and Luka exit, and Ina ends up with the eyes of a horse that restores her vision and causes her to reverse aging. Of course, not everyone starves; Villiam, Barnabas, and Marek eat very well, the later transforming himself into a little tyrant in his own right. (And suddenly no one comments publicly on his deformity!) 


Fall sees the return of rain and the impact of Agata’s return. She has been a servant in a nunnery and is now tongueless and pregnant. When she is examined and declared a virgin–she’s assuredly not–Villiam marries her in the superstitious belief that she is bearing the new Christ child and he will become the new Joseph. All that’s crystal clear is that neither Agata nor Jude want anything to do with Marek.


Winter sees Marek’s descent into alcoholism, the death of Villiam, the demise of Father Barnabas demise, and the dismantling of the church. The new spring finds Ina increasingly youthful and Marek the lord of the manor, but you should not anticipate happily-ever-after in a book such as this. The ending is ambiguous, but might be the most horrifying thing in the book.


Lest you think I’ve given away too much, know that the plot is window dressing for the aforementioned themes that run throughout the book. In other words, it’s the context, more than the narrative, that makes Lavona tick. Moshfegh has both admirers and those who find her work repulsive. I can only assure you Lavona is not cut from threadbare cloth and that you will contemplate the meaning of its cover art.


Rob Weir


Banshees of Inisherin: The True Best Picture



Directed and written by Martin McDonagh

Searchlight Pictures, 114 minutes, R (language, violence, brief nudity)




The Banshees of Inisherin was easily the class of all Oscar-nominated films for Best Picture. It didn’t win any Oscars, but it’s often the case that the Academy fails to honor quality.


The Banshees of Inisherin is Irish, stylish, and quiet, even when violent. Call it the kind of film even the reconstituted Academy deems too “European,” whatever that might mean. It is set in 1923 during the Irish Civil War. In brief, today’s Republic of Ireland won a measure of independence from Great Britain in 1921, but aspects of the peace treaty led the Irish to turn on each other. Especially vexsome for the Catholic south was that six Protestant counties that now make up Northern Ireland remained part of Britain.  


Other than distant rumbling and artillery flashes on the horizon, the Civil War had little impact on Inisherin. The movie was shot in the Aran Isles off the coast of Galway, though director Martin McDonagh took steps to disguise that. The cinematography is spectacular, but Inisherin is fictional–it translates as “island of Ireland”–because McDonagh’s wished to depict its insularity, not situate it within any broader upheaval. His tale is deeply individualized and psychological, not political. 


Inisherin is ruled by patterns. Grasp that, or you’ll not understand how a small spat upends the social balance. Padráic Súilleabhin (Colin Ferrell) and Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson) customarily meet at a set time to share pints and small talk at the local pub, the village’s only real focal point. One day Colm informs Padráic that he doesn’t want to talk to him again, his explanation being that Padráic is “dull” and too “nice,” and he’d rather devote himself to his music. This strikes Padráic as unsatisfying; everyone in Inisherin is so dull that it’s as if collective depression rolled in with the morning tide. Only the global folk art inside Colm’s house hints of intrusions from the outside world.


Padráic has no other friends aside from his live-in sister Siobhán, and his donkey Jenny. The very thought of being abandoned by Colm throws Padráic into a petulant existential crisis. The more he pesters Colm, though, the deeper his resolve to be left alone grows until he, the village’s premier fiddle player, tells Padráic that he will cut off one of his own fingers each time Padráic speaks to him. Alas, Padráic is too despondent to stay silent even after Colm flings the pinky of his fiddle hand at Padráic’s door. And so it goes, though everyone in the village tries to warn Padráic to back off.  


The gruesome, symbolic shedding of blood also severs other frayed village norms. With exception of the local publican, everyone in Inisherin is so frozen in place that they echo each other’s remarks. We witness subplots involving Dominic Kearney (Barry Keoghan), a cleanliness-challenged youth who functions as the village “eejit,” though there’s a later revelation involving his swaggering father Peadar (Gary Lydon), a brutal local Garda (policeman). Poor Dominic is so damaged that he dares wonder if Siobhán would be his girlfriend. She too is at wit’s end and applies for a library job on the mainland. Even the local priest is disengaged and operating on autopilot. Stasis is so pervasive that when Padráic loses his temper and announces he’s tired of being nice, Colm announces that Padráic hasn’t been that interesting in years. By then, though, the damage has been done and there’s no turning back.


“The Banshees of Inisherin” is the name of the fiddle piece Colm is writing before he loses his digits, so we never actually hear the film’s namesake tune. The overall score by Carter Burwell really enhances the film, but know that in Irish folklore banshees are ominous female spirits that portend death. McDonagh has claimed there are no banshees in the film, but I suspect he was having a joke on reviewers, as Mrs. McCormick (Sheila Flitton) meets all bansee criteria and locals go out of their way to avoid her. Banshees is a film in which metaphors abound and the borders blur between myth and reality. Failure to get that lies behind the complaint of several Irish critics who charged that McDonagh dealt in stereotypes. My advice to them is: Don’t be so bloody literal! The Banshees of Inisherin is unsettling, but take the preceding advice and marvel at this small pot of gold.


Rob Weir