Surprise hit that’s an Oscars favourite

Its year-long awards journey started out in small, indie fashion. The film premiered in March 2022 at South by Southwest, a perfect fit for that festival’s younger audience and Daniels’ kinetic style. Glowing reviews gave it artistic cachet, and word of mouth helped fuel its popularity. Soon the breadth of its appeal emerged. Drawing multigenerational and multicultural audiences, and with tropes from martial arts, satire and surrealism, it truly has something for everyone, all in one movie.

This story offers three generations viewers can identify with. And the film’s appeal to immigrant families of all ethnicities is strong. Opinion pieces have been written about its particular resonance for Asian identity, embracing the idea that the film’s fragmented world reflects real life. “To be an immigrant is to live in a fractured multiverse,” the Princeton professor Anne Anlin Cheng wrote in The Washington Post.

Look at the first scenes, and it’s clear that the film, loopy though it becomes, is built on a bedrock of frenetic domestic realism. In the apartment behind the laundromat the Wang family owns, Evelyn is harried, cooking, sorting through tax receipts, running out front to deal with customers. Her husband, Waymond (Quan), is more madcap, putting googly eyes on the laundry bags. But he also has divorce papers in his hands, the only way he thinks he can get his wife’s attention. Their daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu), visits with her girlfriend, but Evelyn doesn’t dare tell her own Old World father that her daughter is gay. Googly eyes aside, it’s just like life in all its hectic overload.

Weird but relatable

When Evelyn and Waymond visit the tax office, the tone changes, and a mix of genres widens the film’s allure for varied audiences. A Waymond from an alternate universe instructs Evelyn on how to jump from one dimension to another so she can save the world by stopping the force of evil. The film’s martial-arts action begins full force as security guards come after him and alt-Waymond swings his fanny pack as a weapon. Yeoh, who built her career as a star of martial arts movies, and Quan, who has worked as a stunt coordinator, leap and kick with the best of them. The comedy can be absurd and wildly funny but is also tethered to real fears. Jamie Lee Curtis makes the dreaded tax auditor a cartoonish yet ominous figure, with her dour expression and frumpy clothes. The performance earned her an Oscar nomination for supporting actress and, in another sign of the film’s momentum, the Screen Actors Guild award, which almost everyone assumed would go to Angela Bassett.

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