It’s difficult to know where to begin with a film literally called Everything Everywhere All at Once. As the title makes clear, co-writers/directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan (aka the Daniels; Swiss Army Man, 2016) cover it all in their nearly 2.5-hour multiverse tale. Seemingly fearless, the Daniels take one visual and narrative risk after another. And thank goodness they did. Everything Everywhere All at Once is one of the most exciting and enriching viewing experiences you will have this year.
Michelle Yeoh, in what will surely be one of the year’s best performances, plays Evelyn Wang, a Chinese-American woman who owns a laundromat with her husband, Waymong (Ke Huy Quan). Evelyn worries that life has passed her by. She wonders what could have been. Evelyn spends her days dealing with racist customers and sorting through bags of clothes. In her limited free time, she pours over her receipts and tries to placate an unfriendly IRS agent, Deirdre Beaubeirdra (Jamie Lee Curtis). There are two certainties in Evelyn’s world: laundry and taxes.
The Wangs’ family life isn’t so great either. Evelyn has a complicated (to say the least) relationship with her daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu). Things get even worse when Evelyn’s father, Gong Gong (93-year-old James Hong, as great as ever) pays a visit. Evelyn refers to Joy’s girlfriend as her “very good friend,” and Joy seems more hurt by Evelyn’s apparent homophobia than her grandfather’s. And we later learn that the unassuming, polite Waymong wants a divorce. Everything seems to be falling apart.
But then one day, it all changes. As the unhappy married couple waits in the elevator at the IRS building, a Waymong from another dimension occupies his body. He tells Evelyn she is in grave danger. The other Waymong gives her a technology that allows one to occupy their body in another dimension and thus take on the talents and skills of that version of oneself, whether it be martial arts, superb lung strength, or having hot dogs for fingers (watch the film, you’ll understand).
Characters often become other versions of themselves at a moment’s notice, creating a high bar the performers each clear by miles. Waymong goes from meek to warrior. Gong Gong is either in his wheelchair speaking only Chinese, or giving commands in fluent English, leading the effort to save the multiverse. Sharing more about Joy might qualify as a spoiler, but viewers should be prepared for a profound performance from Hsu that leaves you with all the feels.
As unlikely heroes often do, Evelyn wonders why she has been chosen. The subversive answer? Because she is not special. Her blandness makes it that much easier to travel through the multiverse and occupy the more interesting versions of herself. In other worlds, Evelyn works as a martial artist, an opera singer, and chef. Evelyn’s mission then becomes what for some might be their worst nightmare: witnessing and reckoning with what she could, and perhaps should have been. The other versions of herself then become fuel in her fight against the forces that seek to destroy everything.
If the internal logic of the film and workings of its multiverse sound confusing, that is because it sometimes is. The Daniels offer a detailed explanation without holding any hands. The exposition makes just enough sense to keep the film moving at its necessarily speedy tempo. Fast, decisive cuts coupled with long takes and choreography worthy of the genres evoked make for an endlessly enjoyable and watchable film. Everything Everywhere All at Once is one of those movies where the cinematic craftsmanship becomes palpable. The viewer revels in the precision of the world constructed by the filmmakers, including editor Paul Rogers and cinematographer Larkin Seiple.
With two decades or so of social media now under our belt, the never-ending growth of digital technologies, and whatever the hell Mark Zuckerberg is up to, the ways Everything Everywhere All at Once serves as a commentary of our current moment are self-evident. It is not the first, nor will it be the last film about the multiverse.
But what makes the film particularly resonant is the ways in which it captures the tone of what it is like to exist right now. A series of visual gags — raccoons, dildos, googly eyes — run throughout the film. They often reemerge at crucial, painfully “serious” moments. The film’s effective montages capture the reality of technological development: it’s as dark and existential as it is absurd and just plain stupid. One moment in particular, an obligatory reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey, shows this to great effect. Such references to other works are found throughout, including an unlikely one audiences will particularly enjoy.
At the narrative core of this film, though, is a small family. The Wangs become a literal and figurative microcosm of the multiverse and its dysfunction. We get the big questions and visual style of a film like 2001 without the coldness. There are characters we grow to care and root for. We are just as invested in their family as we are the fate of everything else.
Balancing the two is no small feat, and the Daniels pull it off more or less seamlessly. There are times when we must re-orientate ourselves as the familial becomes the interdimensional, but once we do, it pays off in spades. The film transcends genres too. Moviegoers will be pleased with the healthy blend of science fiction, martial arts, and absurdist comedy.
Everything Everywhere All at Once raises a number of age-old, mostly unanswerable questions: Does any of this matter? Could one seemingly insignificant decision change the course of one’s life forever? Are there other versions of me out there? The answers seem to be classically ambiguous, both “yes” and “no” with a hint of “it depends.”
The film leans into such ambiguity. And it reminds its audience, if you’re feeling down, there might be a version of you somewhere out there living your dreams. Everything really is possible. And, depending on the person and the time of day, it is a comforting and horrifying thought.
Everything Everywhere All at Once opens in theaters on March 25th, 2022.
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