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Everything Everywhere All at Once Review: Michelle Yeoh Wins the Multiverse in Brilliantly Inventive A24 Film


Everything Everywhere All at Once
Image via A24

Marvel may have its multiverse but it is Michelle Yeoh and her two directors who have mastered the concept with their new A24 movie Everything Everywhere All at Once. The film was written and directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, who call themselves, simply, “Daniels.” The duo made a splash at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival with their irreverent and ambitious debut Swiss Army Man, which found Paul Dano developing a strange friendship with a corpse (Daniel Radcliffe). Thankfully, their sophomore feature casts aside some of the unnecessary trappings that rendered their first story rather disjointed, as Everything Everywhere sees them realize the raw potential they showed with their first film, putting their creativity on full display. To be fair to the MCU, Everything Everywhere was actually produced by Avengers: Endgame directors Anthony and Joe Russo, but this is much more than just a superhero movie, though the action is plentiful. It is a movie, in short, about the very meaning of life — one that you should make all attempts to see on a big screen as soon as possible.

The Daniels waste no time in introducing us to Yeoh’s Evelyn Wang, a Chinese-American woman who owns a laundromat and is largely dissatisfied with her life and past choices. Her husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), is a pushover who wants to divorce her, and she has a troubled relationship with her daughter, Joy (a brilliant Stephanie Hsu), who also happens to be gay — something that Evelyn’s antiquated father, Gong Gong (James Hong), is unlikely to accept. He also requires lots of care from Evelyn, though he frequently, and cruelly, puts her down. To make matters worse, the IRS — perhaps emblematic of everything that can be frustrating in a person’s life — is also after her. Specifically, an IRS inspector named Deirdre Beaubeirdra, who’s played with obvious gusto by Jamie Lee Curtis. If there is any justice in this world, she’ll receive a long-overdue Oscar nomination for her transformative work here.

Everything Everywhere All at Once
Image via A24

As Evelyn looks back longingly on certain critical moments in her life and examines decisions she made that branched off her existence into alternative paths, her husband suddenly becomes possessed, in a sense, claiming that he’s from another universe — an alternate reality, really — and he urgently needs Evelyn’s help. She must tap across her other selves in various worlds in order to defeat a powerful being known as Jobu Tupaki (also played by Hsu) that attempts to cross the various realities with the goal of destroying them. It would be criminal to reveal too much more about the sprawling, ambitious plot of Everything Everywhere, but suffice to say, things get pretty wild after that.

Or, should I say, things get even wilder. Everything Everywhere All at Once actually grips you and assaults your senses from its opening sequences. Though there are no jumps across realities or superheroes at this point, but from the get-go, the rapid-fire dialogue is a bit confusing, alternating quickly between Mandarin and English. This early trick presages the thoughtfulness of what is to come. Not only is it hyper-realistic (and all too rare) to portray immigrant communities alternating tongues, but it prepares you literally and metaphorically for what is to come — a demanding, fast-paced film that will blur the boundaries between what you’ve always understood, and what you will always struggle to understand.

Everything Everywhere All at Once
Image via A24

The Daniels enlist a cadre of talented below-the-line technicians to aid them in their sci-fi quest. Chief among them is Paul Rogers, whose editing speeds up and slows down the action as required by Evelyn’s trippy journey between the past and present. I can’t imagine it’s easy to make visual sense of scenes in which Evelyn simultaneously exists in different versions of reality, but Rogers manages to pull it off. Meanwhile, Son Lux delivers a hip, experimental soundtrack that is both playful and pulse-pounding, while Shirley Kurata‘s outrageous costumes accentuate the at times satirical nature of the proceedings. One must assume that the universe in which humans have hotdogs for fingers — and Curtis is at her most subtle — would not have been possible without Kurata’s flawless designs. In short, nothing is left to chance, though, for all the talent on display by the crew, Yeoh steals every scene with her performance, aided by the Daniels’ smart script.

The science-fiction films that feature alternate realities or dystopian futures frequently founder on the rocky shores they create. Some spend too much time on exposition, laying out the ground rules for their world in painstaking, obvious detail. The worse ones, including many of the tentpoles that audiences flock to, then compound the error by flouting those rules, or by overcomplicating them. Everything Everywhere All at Once — perhaps because of its grandly ambitious scope — manages to avoid those pitfalls. There are rules, to be sure, but they are dealt with fairly quickly, sometimes even in the middle of action scenes. Some are silly plot devices that permit the Daniels to put their jokes (including a couple of unnecessarily prurient ones) in a single sequence that becomes the film’s only blemish of note, while other rules are more critical, and tie not just into the plot, but into the larger message the filmmakers hope to convey as well.

Everything Everywhere All at Once
Image via A24

As Evelyn traverses the different worlds and wonders about her other selves as she clearly sees the consequences of different decisions, a beautiful, touching picture emerges among the fracas of karate, fistfights, and abject ridiculousness. It’s a picture that says life is both magnificent and utterly meaningless. Our existences are awe-inspiring, but also pointless. However, the realization that we don’t matter to the universe should not translate into not caring about it. In fact, that truth is perhaps the one we need to liberate us from our own demons and permit us to live life more wholly. It may sound hackneyed as I write it, but this story and its message are told with such conviction and a lack of sentimentality by the talented directors and their megastar that it comes across as anything but. And for a film to actually be about everything, everywhere, all at once, and explore so many complex ideas in just over two hours without overreaching or under-delivering, is nothing short of stunning.

Every so often, we come across filmmakers who inspire and excite us. After Swiss Army Man, the Daniels definitely did the latter. With Everything Everywhere All at Once, they have done the former. More importantly, they have proven our initial instincts about them correct, as they’re the kind of fresh, creative voices for whom the film industry has long been waiting. I can’t wait to see what they do next, but for now, let’s just take a moment to appreciate this movie, as it’s a minor miracle that it even exists at all.

Grade: A

Everything Everywhere All At Once is now playing in theaters nationwide.

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