Everything Everywhere All at Once was slowly grabbing my attention as its wide release date grew closer, especially after having its premiere at South By Southwest. But the aspect that had me excited about A24’s latest trip down the weird lane is this is the long-awaited return of the filmmaking duo Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (a.k.a. the Daniels). And if they don’t sound familiar, they’re the same pair behind 2016’s love it or hate it good time Swiss Army Man starring Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano. For what should’ve been awful for a comedy with a farting corpse, I’m one of the few who surprisingly loved it. With them taking on their sophomore effort together, just looking at the trailer lets you know you’re not going to see anything like this ever again in the theater. But I was all ready to go on a journey that would tackle different genres from their vision. Strange as this ended up, I think we’re looking at one of the best films so far in 2022.
Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) is a middle-aged Chinese woman struggling to run a laundromat with her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Kwan), a marriage that’s more or less loveless now. But, so far, it isn’t the best day when she wants to prepare for her Chinese New Year party. Her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) is drifting away from her, not getting used to her coming out of the closet, and her father (James Hung) is living with them from China. Once they all visit the IRS to meet to not get the laundromat audited, Evelyn is quickly visited by Waymond but from another universe through consciousness, warning her that she’s the only one who can save the multiverse by connecting with the lives she could’ve led from the evil Jobu Tapaki before every inkling of the universe is destroyed.
But I should throw in a caveat by saying this won’t be pleasing to everyone, and it would be a difficult film to recommend to people if they have a hard time not getting into the weird. For me, it was all about the multiverse concept of storytelling that intrigued me instantly. Some tend to believe in aliens. Some believe the Earth is flat. I’ve always had this fascination with the aspect of the multiverse. Honestly, I think alternate universes are either unique or vastly unreal to the human eye. I constantly think there are vast universes where I’m a writer or ended up in a relationship with my celebrity crush. Hollywood has no shortage of entertainment centered on it. We just had Spider-Man: No Way Home to be the beam of joy and we’re still getting The Flash whenever that comes out now. How can it compare to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness? We don’t know yet? But all I was wondering throughout is how the Daniels made this happen. It’s almost as if they did acid and developed something on par with The Matrix, Being John Malkovich, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (or anything by Charlie Kaufman) to present a notion that will leave me perplexed, questioning the rules of the film follows. And while it may seem like a mess, that is what that title applies. It starts like any normal family dramedy with Evelyn living life with dozens of receipts sitting at the table and how it affects her family’s relationship. But, once they arrived at the IRS building, that’s when things all normal takes a seat back.
As ridiculous everything here is presented, it’s a mind-bending tale I wasn’t expecting to find much more enjoyment than I anticipated. And because we’re dealing with different realities, it isn’t afraid of being infinity creative where we got to see Evelyn finding herself in other worlds. We see a reality where she becomes a famous actress, where she knows kung fu, and a world where everyone has hot dog-shaped fingers. Watching Everything Everywhere All at Once made me question things while it’s unfolding in bits and pieces. At the same time, it continues to get insane about every ten minutes or so would’ve resulted in a brain fart, and it led me to embrace what’s happening on-screen. This doesn’t keep a straightforward narrative as it much packs on layers.
I saw this with a friend of mine during a free screening courtesy of Heartland Film and had to glance over a couple of times to know if he’s enjoying it the same as me, and we could’ve believed how well thought out it was. Even for A24, this was probably the first time I noticed this felt like a blockbuster rather than the small-scale indies they usually release for almost a decade now. Maybe the lovely blend of genres (action, comedy, drama, sci-fi) never lets the screenplay get messy and convoluted. The Daniels must’ve had this idea for years but never knew what the response would be or make it sensible to our minds. But they made a film that can be visually engaging by changing the aspect ratio from a 1:88:1 to 2:39:1 whenever it goes all action on us and having unexpected stakes to keep your eyes forward. And for a budget of $25 million, the way everything is thrown at the screen with impressive visual effects filled with ambition.
This wouldn’t have been any better without a tremendous cast to make this work that has us understand these aren’t perfect characters. Michelle Yeoh gives one of the best, if not THE best, performances of her entire career, maybe topping her work in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Crazy Rich Asians. Is she a big enough star after decades of work? If not, why isn’t she? Yeoh has the difficulty channeling various versions of Evelyn simultaneously in her mind, but her portrayal of Evelyn’s attempt to keep everything together while switching moods is seamless, and allowing her to return to her action origins will add to the intrigue. Ke Huy Quan as Evelyn’s husband, Waymond, was downright the scene-stealer opposite Yeoh. This actor might not look familiar now. But as a child, he’s best remembered for playing Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Data in The Goonies. And what a comeback for him. For a role that has him doing the exposition as the Alpha Waymond and gets to explore different assets of his character in other places, it’s nothing short of incredible, and he knows how to kick ass, especially with a fanny pack. Stephanie Hsu as Joy will be talked about in what will get her more roles after this and what she gets to do later on. And I loved seeing Jamie Lee Curtis as the IRS agent Deidre, who looks like she has a blast filming.
There won’t be another film that got me to laugh harder than this. While anything involving the action was awesomely choreographed, you have to be a joyless person not to find this funny. We’re seeing worlds where it has situations with raccoons, googly eyes on rocks, hot dog fingers, and butt plugs all around a story that’s deeper than we thought. Do I care if the jokes get repetitive? Not my problem unless you think so. A callback had me and the crowd I saw it with was shocked and came entirely out of nowhere. But, at its core, the Daniels need us to understand the relationship between how we cope with complex family issues and the decisions we’re forced to make for ourselves and the people around us. It’s already long, clocking in at 139 minutes, but that flaw may be disregarded in favor of the unexpected emotional thoughts. It didn’t have to make me cry because of how philosophical it can get to character development.
I did have this thought of worry that I wouldn’t be part of the hype. Sometimes that can happen a lot from the studio. Fortunately, that changed around the 20-minute mark. I always love films that can be a part of happiness and help those who don’t feel like their best selves, able to understand life can be filled with endless possibilities no matter where we are in this universe. It’s been a while since I fell for an A24 movie, and this might land somewhere in my top five. When it’s time for the filmmakers to announce their next film, sign me up!
Overall, Everything Everywhere All at Once is one bizarre experience from start to finish, and it weirdly delighted my soul. The Daniels goes all out to deliver a creative and original multiverse adventure on par with the enormous blockbusters we’re getting today. Along with an outstanding performance from Yeoh that shouldn’t be ignored for the remainder of the year, I freakin’ loved it.
Grade: (9/10) A-
Everything Everywhere All at Once is now playing in theaters. Runtime: 139 Minutes. Studio: A24