Everything Everywhere All At Once Review

There is a moment early on in Everything Everywhere All at Once where you start to realise what kind of movie you’re in for. Sure, if you’ve seen pretty much any of the Daniels’ prior work, you know what you’re in for, but this solidifies it. It’s a simple, funny detail that you kinda don’t think too much about. A row of awards behind Jamie Lee Curtis is shaped like butt plugs. Yep. And it only gets wilder from there as the multiversal walls break down, as the Daniels (Kwan and Scheinert) bring forward their particular brand of wacky, wild and emotionally grounded study of human connection.

Everything Everywhere All at Once is a hard film to describe, much like Daniels’s previous directorial effort, Swiss Army Man. It’s easy to say, “a woman struggling to keep her life and family together is suddenly thrust into a multiversal fight to save everything”, yet despite the sheer scale, it very much being the plot of the film feels reductive. You lose the fact that this is a badass, wacky, mind-blowing martial arts action film, a really intimate film about family, choice, the decisions we make, and the paths we choose, all the while it’s also being hysterically funny? It’s a film that pulls off a unique, clever, earnest balancing act in a way that only Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert could; it’s over the top wildness, never undercutting the emotional throughline, even when the two are intersecting. It’s the tonal control that only filmmakers with the utmost handle over their craft can nail, and boy do Daniels nail it.

Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) is unhappy with her life. A Chinese immigrant struggling to make ends meet with the laundromat she and her husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), own, she works to make time for Waymond. Her daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu), and Evelyn don’t have the best relationship. Her relationship with her father (James Hong) is just as strained. All the while, Evelyn is trying to get her taxes in order before IRA agent Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis) takes possession of everything they own. That is before Waymond from an alternate universe takes control of Waymond’s body and begins to guide Evelyn’s alternate selves throughout the multiverse to stop an evil force hell-bent on taking over everything.

The central premise isn’t as insane as Swiss Army Man per se, but the way it is told is no less wild. Kwan and Scheinert solidify their unique tonal, genre and thematic stylings, quirky crude comedy with a true heart of gold and deep analysis into interpersonal relationships. Within a single moment, you can have the insanity of dimension-hopping and the intimacy of a deeply personal conversation; you can watch the oddness of a version of Evelyn with hot dogs for hands juxtaposed with the quiet beauty of rekindling a lost love. It’s not only full of creativity and hilarity, like the Daniels are doing absolutely everything they can to find what new wild element could make each other laugh, but it’s also heartfelt, a truly wild yet fantastic way to explore the human connection. 

With this comes a perfect sense of filmmaking. The Daniels uses the frame, lenses, aspect ratio, colour, visuals, and sound; every creative choice uses the cinematic toolbox in every regard they can, and they execute it with precision and excellence. Of course, this is also as much a testament to the filmmaking teams around them, Larkin Seiple’s cinematography, Paul Roger’s editing, Jason Kisvarday’s production design, Shirley Kurata’s costuming, Michelle Chung and her team’s makeup work, the sound department, art department, the SFX and VFX departments, the stunt guys, the Daniels, as directors, being the creative heads of the film, bring together an excellent team of filmmakers who bring their all to create something really astonishing. The concept of the film allows them to play around with various modes of filmmaking across the runtime, the mundanity of lower-middle-class immigrant family life, the glamour of a famous actor (an ode to Yeoh’s real-life career with a tinge of Wong Kar-wai homage), the weirdness of hot dog fingers (complete with a 2001: A Space Odyssey riff), and far more. Even the simplest moments have so many intensely different crafts on display, depending on what that universe is riffing on. It shows a deep understanding of film as an art form and a brilliant sense of cinematic language. It also explicitly displays how the key elements of film can be used to express vastly different senses of tone and genre and how that all plays into it. It’s the kind of craft that is both a showcase of understanding the medium of film and a full display of love and imagination. It’s both wildly entertaining and totally astonishing.

And yet, despite the clever creativity of the filmmaking, the Daniels never lose track of everything they are trying to do on an emotional level. At the centre of everything in this family, through every universe, with every multiversal jump, even at its most weird, Kwan and Scheinert never lose track of what is truly at the heart of this film, familial connection. With a film as expansive and wild as this, it would be so easy for the film’s heart to be consumed by all genres, tones and general insanity. Yet, the directors are in control at all times and, more than that, make it feel like it should all work together. It’s so enjoyable, heartfelt and beautiful.

Despite all these surprising, beautiful things, the film continues to surprise with its performances. Yeoh is, of course, just absolutely incredible. She gets to cover a lot of performance ground; she gets to be as kickass and emotionally repressed as she was in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, with the added layer of this mundanity, which she makes totally compelling and watchable. It’s a really cathartic performance to watch. Hong is always a welcome presence, one of our greatest actors and always brings a lot of gravitas. Here is no different; bringing a lot of reverence and a sense of prestige needed to be easily conveyed for Evelyn’s father is key to their relationship. And Hsu surprised with her perfect sense and balance of malice and genuine heartache surrounding her relationship with her family. It’s a multifaceted performance, and every time she has to play into the complexity of this role in the biggest of the dramatic beats, she nails it, playing it pitch perfectly.

The revelation, though, is Ke Huy Quan. Quan, who all but disappeared from in front of the camera for two decades (he popped up in Netflix’s 80s adventure homage Finding Ohana last year), comes in with a stunning performance. It’s the kind of sensitive, delicate performance that speaks to the emotionality of the film, in which Quan turns Waymond into the heart and soul of the movie and does so without a misstep. He is so openhearted and emotionally honest, and it works at every turn.

Everything Everywhere All at Once is what happens when you mix the martial arts badassery and sincerity of The Matrix franchise or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with the clever yet crude comedy of a Rogan/Goldberg film. It never feels like it should be as well balanced as it is; constantly, it feels like one of the elements will overwhelm the others, and yet Kwan and Scheinert juggle all the disparate elements with so much control. It is extremely funny, and the action is truly remarkable. The sci-fi, multiversal plot is expansive and fascinating. Yet, at its core, this is a film about emotional repression and family connection, and not only is it a magic trick of filmmaking to watch these two incredible, unique filmmakers pull it off, but it’s also a magic trick to watch it be pulled off at this level. 

Also, Chekhov’s butt plugs. Instant 10/10. (What? You thought I was just bringing attention to that for no reason?).

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The multiverse, confetti explosions, googly eyes, crude humour and a heart as full as anything, the Daniels find the beautiful humanity in the bizarre and badass. Everything Everywhere All At Once Review
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