Sunday, June 16, 2024

Oscar Likeability Transcends the Awards: No One Understands “Everything Everywhere” But Everyone Really, Really Likes the Actors


There isn’t a person I know who can explain what goes on in “Everyone Everywhere All at Once.” Everyone I speak to asks me why it’s winning so many awards? Why can’t anyone make it through the movie? Some people have tried three times. They still don’t get it. They know all the fun stuff, the hot dog fingers, the crazy costumes, Jamie Lee Curtis‘s overbite, the rock with the jiggly eye, the Bagel! We love the Bagel!

But what is it about? No one knows. No one seems to care, either. They just really like the actors.

If you watched the Screen Actors Guild Awards on Sunday — and that was only a half million people– you could see how the cast of “EEAAO” must have caught on during SAG Q&A’s. They’re like last year’s “CODA” cast: they’re fun, authentic, genuine. None of them have ever had awards interest in the past. And they all like each other very much. They also really like their directors, “The Daniels.”

It’s all about likeability. It’s the same for Brendan Fraser. He plays the 600 pound “Whale.” The movie “The Whale” is manipulative. No one wants to see it. There was no rush to the theaters. After 12 weeks in theaters, “The Whale” — the most hyped movie of the year — has made just $16.7 million. But everyone loves the idea of Brendan Fraser making a comeback. In the 90s he had a lot of popular films like “School Ties,” “Encino Man,” and “The Mummy” series. There were a couple of stabs at serious work in “Gods and Monsters” and “The Quiet American,” but Fraser was mostly of his time and eventually faded out. That he’s back at all is a miracle, and “The Whale” sounds serious enough to make all Oscar voters feel like they could rally similarly in their careers.

Just as with Fraser, Ke Huy Quan in “EEAAO” is part of a big comeback story in that film. Very personable, Quan hadn’t worked in decades until he got this movie. He’s remembered fondly as a child actor from the 80s. Michelle Yeoh rose to American fame with “Crouching Tiger,” and made a lot of good films without attention including “Crazy Rich Asians.” Jamie Lee Curtis, always outspoken, is best known for “Halloween” movies and just being cool for the last 40 years. No wonder they won the SAG Awards. If you’re in SAG, the “EEAAO” group is what you dream of: recognition at last. Plus, it’s refreshing — as it was in Oscar hits like “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Parasite” — to see people who’ve rarely gotten screen attention.

And a PS to that idea just seeing 91 year old James Hong on stage at SAG, telling stories about making a movie with Clark Gable and how Asians have been diminished for seven decades, was enough to make you give this cast anything they want.

But what about that movie? The Academy experts didn’t even include it in Visual Effects. It didn’t make the short list. (The judges obviously know better than the rest of us — I thought that was a slam dunk.) The cinematography is very good, but it’s nothing like the stunning work in “All Quiet on the Western Front.” Or even “Top Gun Maverick.” But back to the central problem: the story is convoluted. Yes, the art work is dazzling. But the drama is not on the level of Elvis’s deterioration, or The Fabelmans learning the meaning of family, or the downfall of a self-absorbed Lydia Tar, or the simple notion of the fragility of friendships in “Banshees.”

No, if “EEAAO” and Brendan Fraser win, it’s because of likeability. And that’s not a bad thing, is it?

Oscar voting begins tomorrow, Thursday. I would pick “The Fabelmans,” Michelle Williams, and Steven Spielberg, not to mention Tony Kushner. But that’s a dream. In reality I’d go for “Elvis,” Austin Butler, Cate Blanchett, Angela Bassett and of course, Ke Huy Quan. Spielberg I’m sticking with for best director. Is that how it will turn out? Wait and see on March 12th.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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