It’s a familiar tale: A girl named Alice finds herself frustrated with her current life and feels as though she has no escape, until an unlikely figure promises adventure and mischief—as long as Alice can keep up.
But this is a far cry from the children’s book by Lewis Carroll. This time, Alice is not following a rabbit into a world filled with talking cats, mischievous hatters or homicidal queens. Instead, Alice Kim (Michelle Mao) in the short drama “All I Want Is Everything” is a good girl with bad grades and overwhelming pressure from her mother to get into an Ivy League college. She feels stuck and close to giving up on her education until slacker Yung Brian (Brandon Soo Hoo) approaches her with a new path to success—selling drugs to rich kids with too much time on their hands. And this is how Alice finds herself in the trippy world of the New York City rave scene, although she’s not alone, as the enigmatic and beautiful Paris (Yên Sen) remains by her side throughout her journey.
Due to the constraints of the film’s short runtime (about 17 minutes), the multiple characters that ease in and out of scenes don’t have enough screen time to feel completely fleshed out. However, there are two characters who the audience can grasp almost right away—Alice and Brian. Alice is the most concrete in terms of characterization, as writer-director Alexandra Cuerdo has ensured that Alice feels like any immigrant family’s eldest daughter, carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders if she doesn’t meet expectations. Mao’s attention to the smaller details of the character also elevates Alice, especially in her facial expressions, from a strained smile during a moment of celebration to her proud realization she deserves a better life than the one given to her. Brian, on the other hand, gives his own personality away through his wardrobe alone. With unruly hair, tattoos and a very vibrant vest, Brian doesn’t even need to say a word for audiences to catch his too-cool-for-school mindset. Fortunately, Soo Hoo plays this rebel-without-a-cause very well; with his blasé body language and smarmy line delivery, it’s no wonder Alice feels the confidence to ditch the straight and narrow path. Although it’s a pity the audience doesn’t get to know Paris better, Sen sets up the character well enough with her own charisma that you can’t help but want to see how she develops.
“All I Want Is Everything” also doesn’t fall short in terms of cinematography, even with the limited runtime. From the start of the film, the setting is rather mundane, as Alice’s daily, school-centric life is filled with dull coloring and unexciting study rooms. But when Alice finally lets loose during a fun-filled night with Brian, the filming style and color scheme shifts into something much more exciting. With cool tones and poppy music, these scenes evoke a nostalgic feeling for the bright, cheerful days of teenagerdom, filled with no responsibilities and plenty of anticipation for the future. The underground club world comes to life in a fusion of Y2K glitter, neon cyberpunk-inspired backdrops and all the moody lighting of a “Euphoria” episode. These scenes show the audience a tangible visualization of Alice breaking free from the dull life she was living before and entering a more exciting, vibrant world in more ways than one.
While this version of Alice may have not fallen down a rabbithole full of whimsical creatures, the rave scene that Alice finds herself trapped in is every bit as mesmerizing as the storybook. Ultimately, the premise of a student conning her way into an Ivy League school is a bit hard to swallow, especially considering the fact that Alice’s real-life counterparts are highly connected and rich students. But if you can suspend your disbelief, it’s an entertaining and enjoyable watch. With “All I Want Is Everything,” Cuerdo has herself a promising potential series on her hands, one with complicated characters, vibrant settings and underrepresented voices. It would be a shame not to see that world fully formed.