At this year’s Oscars, the hit movie Everything Everywhere All at Once absolutely swept the house with seven total wins. Perhaps one of the most important moments was Michelle Yeoh being awarded the “Best Actress” title, becoming the first Asian woman to win this award after her well–rounded performance. As with any powerhouse win, this received both admiration and admonition by critics. Yet, above all criticism, one truth prevails: This movie gave a voice to experiences of deep rooted generational trauma and healing in a way that left viewers laughing, crying, and experiencing everything in between. Everything Everywhere All at Once is a new, stunning example of absurdist comedy as a dynamic and versatile genre.
Comedy has been around for as long as its popular counterparts. It was featured in Ancient Greece in the works of playwrights like Plato and Pericles, with popularity that has persisted through the times. Everyone, even those circa Ancient Greece, needs a good laugh sometimes.
However, comedy has evolved into so much more than a channel of light laughter. By taking on absurdist tones, comedy has developed to incorporate many difficult themes including grief, trauma, and self—reckoning. Through adding elements of humor and satire, such themes have become entertaining and, subsequently, more palatable. After all, would you rather watch a sterile documentary on teen pregnancy or Juno?
Recently, The Menu, a dark comedy that brought absurdism to the forefront of the film, effectively critiqued class tensions through the dramatic charade of fine dining. Not only did this film garner quick success, some have argued that it may have played a role in the subsequent closing of noma, one of the world’s most renowned fine—dining restaurants. In early January, Daily Mail published an article chronicling noma’s closure following the debut of the hit comedic thriller. It’s certain that in our modern era of media, many consumers increasingly understand the capacity of film to influence the world around us—especially through satiric, absurdist comedy.
Sometimes this genre is the necessary platform to express more realistic struggles. The big screen is the avenue through which movies have given a voice to the challenges we can’t seem to voice ourselves in our daily life. In fact, one of the most striking aspects of Everything Everywhere All at Once is how it captures the duality of generational trauma. Beyond this theme, its sporadic, intense plot portrays much more: the importance of inner healing and the light of those around you, and the difficulty of this journey that’s especially prevalent in immigrant families. The culmination of all these deep topics transcended comedy but was still able to evoke humor and joy in audiences—an inherently paradoxical, yet impactful feat: hence this movie’s Oscar nomination.
Movies such as Everything Everywhere All at Once serve to resonate with populations of people who haven’t seen their struggles illuminated by the film industry—a critical industry for the shaping of culture and disseminating messages of importance in our era. In EEAO, children and parents alike see their plights with generational trauma and the complexity of it depicted in a way that, through its delivery, still leaves them amused without exhausting and depleting their emotional capacities. It’s no wonder that it swept the house: who knows the last time such themes were crafted so beautifully and into something that could leave you craving a bagel.
A24’s Everything Everywhere All at Once proves that comedy remains an ever–evolving genre that has the capacity to make space for all voices and faces. Not only is comedy expanding, but producers are using it creatively to tackle some of society’s biggest problems. Comedies win Oscars, comedies shut down Michelin star restaurants, and comedies leave us conflicted between laughter and tears. Regardless of all its elements, the dichotomy of emotions that comedy can invoke in viewers is beautiful, and it will likely continue to be used to address all these topics and more: undoubtedly, if they do, we will see more movies follow in the footsteps of Everything Everywhere All at Once.