I’ve been lambasted by a number of Spy readers after declaring Everything Everywhere All at Once trash after watching only 20 minutes of the film. I was called unprofessional, stupid, bigoted, and worse. The more polite readers shared their experiences with the film, with several indicating that they, too, found the opening of the film tedious or chaotic but came to like, or even love the film after giving it a chance.
Setting aside the name-calling, the Spy readers who criticized me are right, sort of. If I could write the piece again, I would watch the entire movie before commenting on it. But I say “sort of” because what I did—rely on a first impression—is something most of us do most of the time.
I trust my gut, rely on my own eyes, and “know what I like.” But I also agree with Ronald Reagan’s advice of trust but verify. I “verify” when my first impression leaves enough of a doubt that I suspect error or conclude that my first impression is not sufficient to serve as the basis for a conclusion.
Over the years, I have reached thousands of conclusions based on first impressions and live comfortably with those conclusions every day. Some conclusions may be wrong, but if they have minimum impact on others, what is the harm in living with them? As I see it, it is my business.
A few examples of first impressions that led to conclusions are my distrust of Fiat and Chevrolet branded vehicles. I worked at a gas station in Germany many years ago and encountered what I recall was an endless string of mechanical failures that the drivers of the Fiats who stopped in for gasoline had experienced. I remember parts falling off the interiors of the cars and owners seeking help in reattaching them. In the case of Chevrolets, a friend had a miserable little car called a Chevette (not to be confused with a Corvette). One day we were driving down Route 95 and the engine suddenly died. I have not trusted a Chevy since.
Other examples of first impressions include food (if the first bite tastes awful, the rest likely will stay the same), music (if the first few bars cause a headache, the remainder could kill you), and politicians (Trump lost me in 2015 with his bigoted rhetoric as he rode down a golden escalator to announce his candidacy for the presidency.)
If I extrapolated the criticism I received on my comments on Everything Everywhere, I would buy a Fiat and drive it for a year or two to determine whether the company has resolved its quality issues. I would give Donald Trump a second chance, reread The Art of the Deal and a dozen or so of his other books, and quit describing him as a threat to American Democracy.
As you might guess, I’m not about to shut up about Trump until he leaves the political stage. In so doing, I accept that I will continue to provoke anger on the part of his base of supporters, whom, by the way, seem to consist of people who seem indifferent to sedition, sexual harassment, grift, racism, and a lot more.
Speaking out against Donald Trump is, in my view, doing readers a favor. Even if my “research” on Trump is incomplete, if my opinion prompts anyone to reconsider their support of Trump, I am doing good.
Similarly, when I offer an opinion about Easton, saying that it is a great place to live or visit, I confess that there are things about Easton that I don’t know. Maybe if I knew more about Easton I would tell people to visit Chestertown or Cambridge before visiting Easton. Is that a problem? Is it unprofessional to praise Easton, endorse a restaurant where I enjoyed a good meal, or to opine that Toyota makes better cars than another company? I do not think so.
Even when writing comments on the Oscar awards and particular movies, I think it is OK to share one’s opinions. A condition on commenting, of course, is that one’s comments should not be racist or hurtful to anyone. But advising people to avoid particular films, silence certain music, support Ukraine in repelling Russia, and to embrace social equity and justice, is not wrong. Isn’t opinion writing what that term means—sharing opinions? When a writer puts his or her name on a piece, it implies it is an opinion. And for those who accused my criticism of Everything Everywhere of being racist, how do they defend the gratuitous violence against police and IRS agents in the film?
After reviewing the criticism of my criticism of Everything Everywhere, I have decided to continue to offer opinions on politics, culture, social justice, and even movies. I made that decision after reading and considering the comments I received. I did not read every comment, but I read enough to know that I should have watched all of Everything Everywhere before commenting on it. I also am confident that had I watched the entire film, I still would not have liked it. It is not a crime to admit that. And, come to think of it, I told my readers I had not watched the entire film before condemning it as “trash” so they could take that into account in deciding whether my opinion was worthy of their consideration.
J.E. Dean is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, and other subjects.