Everything Everywhere All at Once presents us with the interesting notion that every disappointment and every failure has led us to this exact moment in our lives. We have made the choices in life that have shaped us and molded us into who we are, but can we accept ourselves, or do we still not feel good enough?

Most people who believe they are not good enough or are living a fulfilling life are often measuring their circumstances against their parents' expectations. Jobu (Stephanie Hsu) from Everything Everywhere is the embodiment of this type of parental abuse. Unlike Joy, whose queerness isn’t accepted by her mother, Evelyn (Michelle Yeo), Jobu was used as a science experiment by Alpha Evelyn and her mind was broken. Her mission to spread the pain outward from herself is a depiction of how cycles of abuse perpetuate themselves. It’s Evelyn’s mission to destroy the cycle of violence to save the world from being swallowed into an everything bagel. 

The film falls into a suddenly popular subgenre that Vox writer Emily St. James has dubbed the “millennial parental apology fantasy.”

Instead of telling family genre stories through the lens of a child learning just how much their parent has sacrificed for them, these stories are a mirror image, forcing the parent to reconcile with their relationship with their parents and their children. Think Lady Bird and how Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) comes to accept her mother instead of the other way around.

What is Anime? A Guide to the Definition and Style'The Mitchells vs. the Machines'Credit: Netflix

What Is the Millennial Parental Apology Fantasy? 

This subgenre of the family drama is about a parent realizing how badly they’ve treated their child in pursuit of an idealized life. Unlike the time-honored story of a child learning just how much their parent has sacrificed for them, these stories focus on healing intergenerational trauma. 

Usually, the child realizes that the trauma did not originate with their parents, and the parent-child relationship reaches a climactic point in which they begin to understand each other and apologize for their toxic behavior. The story ends with both parties focusing on a healthier relationship with clear boundaries to help start the healing process. 

Films like Everything Everywhere All at Once, EncantoTurning Red, and The Mitchells vs. the Machines tell the traditional family drama through the lens of parent-child struggles, often emphasizing the feeling of disappointment that the child often feels when dealing with their parental figure. The parent is still often the flawed character, but they can realize and understand how their actions affect those around them. There is a layer of understanding that comes from the apology fantasy that typically fell onto the shoulders of the child in the family drama. 

Turning Red is the perfect example of the subgenre’s framework. Upon reaching puberty, 13-year-old Mei discovers that her family has been cursed to transform into giant red pandas when they are feeling too intensely. Mei discovers that she doesn’t want to modulate her emotions, and enjoys being a panda. It’s her life to live, and she chooses to go against her mother’s wishes to exile the panda from Mei. 

Like Everything Everywhere All at Once, Turning Red is an immigrant story. Mei’s mother is the daughter of Chinese-Canadian immigrants and the crux of the film involves Mei realizing that her mother has been repressing even greater emotions than Mei has. To please her mother, Ming expelled her red panda, yet she still doesn’t feel like she is a good enough daughter. Through Mei, Ming realizes that if Mei wishes to keep her red panda, she should be allowed to do so despite Ming’s wishes.

In the end, Ming and Mei understand each other just a little bit more, which opens the door to them accepting each other’s wants and desires. 

Other Examples

These stories are not unique to the era of millennial filmmaking. The 1952 film The Holly and the Ivy tells the story of a reverend who realizes that his grown children are terrified to tell him about their problems because they are worried that he will see them as disappointments. This brings to light the complicated child-parent relationship through the traditional antagonist’s perspective, allowing the audience to sympathize with the parent as they come to understand the pain they’ve caused their children. 

The_holly_and_the_ivy_1952_family_drama'The Holly and the Ivy'Credit: British Lion Films

The Aspects of Identity

The millennial parent apology fantasy focuses on how the basic tropes of the family drama intersect with identity—particularly the immigrant experience and queer identities, and their focus on the ways trauma, toxicity, and abuse cycle through generations.

The fantasy is not that the parent will apologize, but that the cycle of trauma will break and no longer perpetuate itself. It appeals to the parent and the child, bringing them closer together in the end. 

The aspects involving identity are also important to the recent rise of this subgenre. Queer millennials have lived through a rapid shift in social acceptance where queer identities have become much more common in the mainstream. Often, millennial parents haven’t been as good at making that dynamic shift as the millennial generation might have liked, which has led to conflict. It is learning how to express these frustrations through storytelling that has become the focus of many millennial family dramas, often confronting the parents' inability to fully accept their child's identity.

Why the Apology Matters 

So when did this seemingly sudden shift in the family genre start to become prominent in storytelling? Considering the production cycles for these movies, it would be impossible for them to have influenced each other, since they all were released around the same time. 

Emily St. James believes that plenty of millennials are now having children of their own, and having children of your own naturally makes you reflect on how your parents raised you. In the age of the internet and pop culture, looking into your family history can open the conversation about your intergenerational trauma.

This idea is fantastical because the apology acts as the cure-all for the faults of the parent-child relationship. The apology and understanding become the climax of these stories, but what happens afterward? Usually, the film ends and we are left feeling like things will be better for the family, but that is far from the reality of intergenerational trauma. In reality, many more complex issues can’t be solved with an apology. 

In the final scenes of Everything Everywhere All at Once, an Evelyn and a Joy who have seen the multiverse choose to be versions of themselves who might be able to move past the worst of what they have done to each other.

Everything_everywhere_rock_scene'Everything Everywhere All at Once'Credit: A24

This is the only millennial parental apology fantasy told from the parent's perspective. Evelyn realizes that she could be kinder to her daughter, offering to not let Joy go but to hold on to her and work on accepting Joy for who she is. Evelyn is still overly critical, but she acknowledges who Joy is, which is a huge step forward. 

From a writing standpoint, consider how your characters might be the villain in someone else’s story. How could that lead to healthier relationships in your script? Family dramas are always focused on an issue reaching its breaking point, and it’s how characters deal with those breaking points that help shape their future relationships. 

These movies are incredibly therapeutic, opening up a new conversation about the parent-child relationship. These create opportunities to tell fresh and cathartic stories that draw upon real life.

Can you think of other examples? Leave them in the comments!

Source: Vox