Everything Everywhere All At Once
Michelle Yeoh navigates the multiverse in this bold, clever, revelatory and gloriously chaotic funhouse of a film from the directors of 'Swiss Army Man'.
April 13, 2022
Imagine living in a universe where Michelle Yeoh isn't the wuxia superstar she is. No, no one should want to dwell in that reality. Now, envisage a world where everyone has hot dogs for fingers, including the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon icon. Next, picture another where Ratatouille is real, but with raccoons. Then, conjure up a sparse realm where life only exists in sentient rocks. An alternative to this onslaught of pondering: watching Everything Everywhere All At Once, which throws all of the above at the screen and a helluva lot more. Yes, its title is marvellously appropriate. Written and directed by the Daniels, aka Swiss Army Man's Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, this multiverse-hopping wonder is a funhouse of a film that just keeps spinning through wild and wacky ideas. Instead of asking "what if Daniel Radcliffe was a farting corpse that could be used as a jet ski?" as their also-surreal debut flick did, the pair now muses on Yeoh, her place in the universe, and everyone else's along with her.
Although Yeoh doesn't play herself in Everything Everywhere All At Once, she is seen as herself; keep an eye out for red-carpet footage from her Crazy Rich Asians days. Such glitz and glamour isn't the norm for middle-aged Chinese American woman Evelyn Wang, her laundromat-owning character in the movie's main timeline, but it might've been if life had turned out differently. That's such a familiar train of thought — a resigned sigh we've all emitted, even if only when alone — and the Daniels use it as their foundation. This isn't a movie that stays static, however, or wants to. Both dizzying and dazzling in its ambitions, the way it brings those bold aims to fruition, the tender emotions it plays with and the sheer spectacle it flings around, Everything Everywhere All At Once is a magnificent dildo-slinging, glitter cannon-shooting, endlessly bobbing and weaving whirlwind.
Everything Everywhere All At Once is the movie version of a matryoshka set, too. While Russian Doll nods that way as well, the possibilities are clearly endless when exploring stacked worlds. Multiverses are Hollywood's current big thing — the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the DC Extended Universe, the Sony Spider-Man Universe and Star Trek have them, and Rick and Morty adores them — but the concept here is equally chaotic and clever. It starts with Evelyn, her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom's Short Round and The Goonies' Data) and a hectic time. Evelyn's dad (James Hong, Turning Red) is visiting from China, the Wangs' daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings) brings her girlfriend Becky (Tallie Medel, The Carnivores) home, and IRS inspector Deirdre Beaubeirdra (Jamie Lee Curtis, Halloween Kills) is conducting a punishing audit. Then Evelyn learns she's the only one who can save, well, everything, everywhere and everyone.
There's a great gag in that revelation, playing smartly yet savagely with perspective — because Everything Everywhere All At Once is all about how we choose to see things. Imagine trudging over to your local tax department, trolley full of receipts in hand and possible financial ruin in front of you, only to be told mid soul-crushing bureaucratic babble that it all means nothing since the very fate of the universe is at stake. But, at the same time, imagine realising that it's the simplest things that mean the most when space, time, existence and every emotion possible is all on the line. Although that isn't how a different version of Waymond puts it to Evelyn, it's what sparkles through as she's swiftly initiated into a battle against dimension-jumping villain Jobu Tapaki, discovers that she can access multiple other iterations of herself by eating chapsticks and purposefully slicing herself with paper cuts, and gets sucked into a reality-warping kaleidoscope.
For Evelyn 1.0, everything the film throws her way is overwhelming, unsurprisingly. The Daniels have done a stellar job of ensuring viewers feel the same. Everything Everywhere All At Once splashes around more gleefully overstuffed absurdity than even a 139-minute-long movie can usually handle, but relentlessness is part of the point. When you're making Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse meets Inception meets Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind meets The Matrix meets Hong Kong marital-arts cinema, a notion few folks in any multiverse could dream up, havoc comes with the territory. As shot by Larkin Seiple (Swiss Army Man) and edited by Paul Rogers (Scheinert's solo flick The Death of Dick Long) with unfaltering flair that's 100-percent designed to overload the senses, that on-screen anarchy is what makes the movie so immersive and Evelyn's plight so relatable. And, it's essential to anchoring the feature's 'nothing matters, everything is fleeting, revel in the small stuff' mantra.
While it was penned for Jackie Chan, Yeoh is the movie's chosen one well beyond the script. Her casting lets the Daniels see acting stardom in one of Evelyn's other lives, but it's her flexibility and grounding that's crucial. Everything Everywhere All At Once walks such a thin tightrope between the raucous and the ridiculous that plenty could've faltered. In another universe, it did. But always beating away at the centre of this film in this reality, amid the countless costume changes, hairstyles and all (with enormous credit due to the inventive behind-the-scenes teams), is Yeoh. She deploys the quiet ferocity that's marked her performances for four decades, and twists through everything from existential malaise and intergenerational trauma to the everyday struggle that is living a life, including as a mother and wife, that's worlds away from your hopes and dreams.
Yeoh is a joy to watch in whatever is lucky to have her — including Last Christmas, Boss Level, Gunpowder Milkshake and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings recently — and her work here shakes her entire career to-date together, then lets the best, boldest and most bizarre possibilities shine. Everything Everywhere All At Once is a tribute to its lead as much as anything else, but it's also so much else: a marvellous calling card for Hsu, a glorious return for the exceptional Quan, and a movie that makes weird and wonderful use of Curtis, too. It's an anything-goes free-fall through interdimensional mania where everything does and can happen — as brilliantly choreographed — and a clear-eyed examination of the ties and troubles of family, of uprooting your existence to strive for a future that mightn't come, and of weathering the mundane and the sublime in tandem. It's a whirl, a swirl, a trip, a blast and a juggle as well and, in this universe, the Daniels wouldn't have it any other way.