17 Apr REVIEW – ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’ is truly unlike anything you’ve ever seen
It’s been over a week since I experienced one of the most singularly unique films I’ve ever witnessed and I’m still struggling to find the right words to properly describe its majesty. A visually stunning and emotionally resonant masterpiece, Everything Everywhere All At Once might just be the best film of the year. That’s a mighty big call to make in mid-April, but it’s genuinely difficult to fathom another piece of cinema leaving such an indelible impression.
A film that will completely overload your brain and heart in the best way possible, Everything Everywhere All At Once is an astonishing achievement that tells the simplest of stories in the most elaborate of ways. Outlandishly absurd yet deceptively powerful, it’s truly unlike anything you’ve ever seen. It’s the kind of staggering originality that reminds movie lovers why we love cinema. What an absolute gift.
Written and directed by the genius duo Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (credited here as Daniels), the film centres on Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh, never better), the exhausted owner of a struggling laundromat she runs with her supportive but beleaguered husband, Waymond (a revelatory Ke Huy Quan). While Evelyn is furiously attempting to prepare for an impending audit with the IRS and a birthday party for her disapproving elderly father (the legendary James Hong), Waymond is contemplating asking for a divorce, if only he could get a moment alone with his busy wife.
Their college drop-out daughter, Joy (a sensational Stephanie Hsu) is equally frustrated with Evelyn due to her mother’s stubborn inability to acknowledge her daughter’s sexuality or her adoring girlfriend, Becky (Tallie Mede), who Joy hopes to introduce to her grandfather at his party. While the family meets with invasive IRS inspector Deirdre Beaubeirdra (a deliciously dowdy Jamie Lee Curtis), Waymond’s body is hijacked by an alternate version of himself from a world known as the Alphaverse. Alpha Waymond informs Evelyn that the entire multiverse is under attack by the powerful entity Jobu Tupaki and she may be the only one who can save it from total collapse.
That’s really just scratching the surface of what the Daniels have crafted here. Over the course of 139 exhilarating (and initially nonsensical) minutes, we’re introduced to a series of alternate Evelyns who’ve each taken different life paths the underachieving laundromat owner did not follow. They range from occupations as realistic as a renowned opera singer, a world-famous action star, and a renowned hibachi chef to entities from bizarre universes where everyone has hot dogs for fingers or one populated by sentient boulders with googly eyes.
Is it all just a little bit bonkers? Yes. Yes, it is. It’s deliriously confusing high concept cinema where you will often be scratching your head and thinking, “What the actual f*ck am I watching right now?” And I haven’t even mentioned how a giant bagel, a sex toy, and an anthropomorphic raccoon also come into play at various points. Or the brilliant references to everything from The Matrix and Clan of the White Lotus to In the Mood for Love and Ratatouille. But, I promise you, the Daniels know exactly what they’re doing. Trust me, just go with it and everything will make sense in the end.
There is reason to the Daniels’ madness. Each alternate version of Evelyn contains a particular set of unique skills that she’ll inherit in her battle to defeat Jobu. Not only will those talents play a part in Evelyn’s quest to save the day, but they each also give her a sense of what her life could have been and how her choices led her to this very moment. While the Marvel franchise mostly utilises the multiverse concept as a conceit to elicit applause-inducing cameos, the Daniels explore deeper alternate reality concepts that will truly have you pondering how the smallest of decisions can have gargantuan consequences.
At the centre of all this chaos is the magnificent Yeoh, who is handed the role (or should that be roles?) of a lifetime and truly runs with the opportunity. It’s shameful she’s never been offered the parts her immense talent deserves. But the Daniels know what they have on their hands and never once waste a second of what Yeoh can deliver. She’s the glue that holds this film together, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a more capable female actor who can handle such a responsibility. She’s genuinely breathtaking to watch. If an Academy Award nomination isn’t in her future, we riot.
Naturally, the Daniels take full advantage of Yeoh’s infamous martial arts skills, but she’s also gifted the chance to explore a marvellous mix of moving dramatic beats and hilarious comedy that we’ve simply never seen from her before. She handles it all with grace, dignity, and both strength and vulnerability as a woman forced to witness alternate versions of herself that are far more successful, assertive, and happier. Evelyn is the part she was born to play. It’s like her entire career has been leading to this moment. And no one but Yeoh could have delivered quite a spectacular performance.
But the real surprise package is Quan, who you may recognise from his childhood roles in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (Short Round!) and The Goonies (Data!). After decades away from the acting world, Quan makes a triumphant return to the screen in a terrific and achingly loveable performance. He will break your heart as Evelyn’s loyal but exhausted husband, but he’s also asked to play multiple versions of Waymond who are so wildly different from his real-world persona. The range Quan is able to display is simply astonishing as he effortlessly switches from goofy and affable to debonair and suave in the blink of an eye.
The true heart of the Daniels’ screenplay is the deeply moving mother-daughter narrative thread and the generational problems that are tearing them (and the multiverse) apart. In a breakout performance that threatens to steal the entire film, Hsu is captivating as a frustrated daughter who’s tired of seeking her distant mother’s approval. It’s hard to discuss Joy’s character arc without veering into spoiler territories, but Hsu delivers a profoundly complex performance with many rich layers to explore. Evelyn, Joy, and Waymond’s story culminates in a powerfully emotional finale that left me crying more tears than I can count.
On a technical level, Everything Everywhere All At Once is a stunning achievement. From Paul Rogers‘ furious editing that somehow keeps everything together and Larkin Seiple‘s gorgeous cinematography to Shirley Kurata‘s spectacular and elaborate costume designs and Jason Kisvarday‘s rich and meticulously detailed production design, this is a sumptuous feast for the eyes. The action sequences pulse with a palpable energy and the comedic moments lean heavily into the utter absurdity of this film’s wild premise. On a pure entertainment level, you’re unlikely to find another film this season that’s this outrageously fun.
I could waffle on for another 1,000 words, but then we’d start getting into revelations that are better left unspoiled. It’s rare to find a film that dares to bite off so much and somehow still manages to gleefully chew it all. It’s a miracle Everything Everywhere All At Once doesn’t collapse under the weight of its own ambition. Thankfully, the Daniels are wise enough to never lose sight of the emotional core of their narrative. For all the wacky bedlam they’re maniacally crafting, their focus always remains on the warm, pertinent family drama at the very core of this film that touched my soul like few films in recent history.
At the end of the day, Everything Everywhere All At Once is merely a simple story of a fractured family finding a path back to each other. It’s a tale of regret, remorse, and missed opportunities. It’s an ode to the power of kindness and human connection with a glimmer of hope for those still searching for their own true purpose in life. Sure, these messages are wrapped in a hefty dose of silliness, but they shine above the absurdity to capture your heart and leave you walking out of the cinema with a huge smile on your face and tears in your eyes. This is a landmark moment for cinema in 2022 that all others will be measured against. Good luck trying to beat it.
Cast: Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, James Hong, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tallie Medel, Jenny Slate, Harry Shum Jr.
Directors: Daniels (Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert)
Producers: Joe Russo, Anthony Russo, Mike Larocca, Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert, Jonathan Wang
Screenplay: Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
Cinematography: Larkin Seiple
Production Design: Jason Kisvarday
Costume Design: Shirley Kurata
Music: Son Lux
Editor: Paul Rogers
Running Time: 139 minutes
Release Date: 14th April 2022 (Australia)