Everything Everywhere All at Once and all the images you see in this review are owned by A24
Directed by Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinert
I heard a lot of good things about this movie going into it, but what really grabbed my attention was finding out that this was directed by The Daniels. Their previous film, Swiss Army Man, was a pretty fantastic little indie film (that I did a pretty poor job reviewing despite giving it a good score) and I’d always wondered what they had been up to since then. You probably don’t need me to tell you if this movie is good given how far-reaching the praise has been for it (and the fact that I’m reviewing it almost a month after its release), but maybe my little voice out there in the universe will ultimately make a difference for someone! Is this as great as everyone says it is, or will I be the bearer of bad news that’s about to rain on everyone’s parade? Let’s find out!!
Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) is not very happy with her life. She runs a laundromat with her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), her father (James Hong) has health issues and needs to be taken care of, and her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) is bugging her about something when all she wants to do is keep everything from falling into chaos. Throwing a wrench into her plan is the IRS who is auditing her business, and the agent assigned to her case (Jamie Lee Curtis) is not exactly the most amenable to her stressful situation. Sometimes you just have to wonder where things went wrong and if there’s a better version of you out there. Fortunately for Evelyn though, she gets an answer to that question when her husband starts acting very weird and tells her to wear these wireless earpieces that end up sending her to alternate dimensions. It turns out that Evelyn may just be the key to solving some sort of inter-dimensional timey-wimey nonsense and that her husband is being controlled by a parallel version of him from the Alpha-verse that is able to hop dimensions and is searching for a way to stop a terrible threat that is about to shatter all of existence. Sort of a lot to drop on someone already struggling to make it through the day, but when the alternative is talking to someone at the IRS, it’s pretty easy to figure out which is the better option! Evelyn has to find the strength within her and put everything she holds dear on the line in order to save the future (or something like that), but can she juggle the problems of multiple versions of her life when she’s struggling just to deal with the one she’s got? What is this all-powerful threat that Evelyn needs to face, and is Alpha Waymond keeping some very important secrets from her? Can you apply deductions from businesses in an alternate reality, or do you need separate filings for each parallel universe?
Sometimes I can be a bit contrarian when it comes to movies everyone is raving about, but that is not going to be the case here as this was not just a great movie but one of the best movies I’ve seen in quite some time! The title ends up being rather apt because the movie really does feel like there’s something here for everyone with just how much is going on in it, and the only thing that might put audiences off of it is the bizarre premise. Sure, it’s a little much and might even be downright confusing if you aren’t familiar with the sci-fi tropes they are working with, but if you give it enough time to really melt into your brain, it’s bound to touch on something that will speak to you; whether it’s the emotional catharsis of Evelyn’s journey, the sadness and emptiness that fuel the villain’s reign of terror, or even the kung-fu action that’s just as phenomenally executed as it is genuinely funny. It’s the kind of movie that reminds you how much fun you can have with something that is still artsy-fartsy; that challenging movies about deep subject matter aren’t in any way lessened by having butt jokes, pratfalls, and hilariously brutal violence!
The movie is a technical marvel with so many moving pieces that had to be perfectly arranged when putting the film together. The premise alone is the kind of thing to give a writer a headache, but then actually filming it and planning for every shot needed to make the story comprehensible is a marvel in and of itself. The final product perhaps stumbles a bit here and there in trying to cram in all of its ideas in a digestible manner, but it’s really not that hard to follow once you understand the core concept. Anyone who could get behind The Matrix or Avengers Endgame is sure to pick up on the broad strokes, and the execution of these ideas is darn near perfect! It’s intense when it needs to be, funny whenever they can get away with it, and packed with as much action as the budget would allow which keeps it from ever getting boring or predictable as the movie never stops coming up with new ways to keep the audience guessing and genuinely excited to see what happens next. It all comes together so well with an astounding abundance of creativity that you start to wish that they would turn this into a full-on franchise with sequels, animated spin-offs, and a long-running comic book series, but then the movie starts letting you in on its biggest secrets and you realize that it somehow manages to be so much bigger than any of that.
What sends the movie from an absolute thrill ride of endless enjoyment into what may end up being the best movie of the year are the themes and its emotional resonance. Yes, the fight scenes and humor are what carry this movie throughout most of its running time, but it’s all just a lead-in to the bigger picture that the filmmakers want to explore, and it’s pretty astounding to see what they come up with. There really aren’t a lot of movies that can get this big and cerebral without eventually losing their way, and the key to this being able to spread itself across an infinite landscape of possibilities is that Michelle Yeoh is constantly keeping us grounded. Her performance is absolutely fantastic and gives the movie the weight it needs when it threatens to get sucked too far into its own cleverness and heady sci-fi concepts. Of course, she doesn’t need to hold the movie up on her own because the rest of the cast is great as well. Jamie Lee Curtis has a lot of different roles to play throughout and manages to give them all life and personality, while Stephanie Hsu helps to guide us through the movie’s more complicated and esoteric ideas in a way that stays entertaining and doesn’t stop the movie in its tracks to explain itself, a la the Architect in The Matric Reloaded. Of course, the biggest star of the supporting cast is Ke Huy Quan who you may recognize as Short Round from Temple of Doom and Data from The Goonies. It’s a shame that he had trouble finding work for most of his career because this is a star-turning performance if I’ve ever seen one. The guy has an amazing amount of presence and can turn on a dime from downbeat humor to suave action gravitas the likes of which we’ve rarely seen since Christopher Reeve so effortlessly played both Clark Kent and Superman. He’s one of many reasons this movie has as much heart as it does and I really hope that this is the start of a career resurgence for the guy. I think what I liked most about it, and hopefully, this doesn’t veer too closely into spoilers, is that it’s probably the firmest rejection I’ve seen of the overly cynical mindset that has festered on the internet and is what I like to call Rick Syndrome. We are all living through a very difficult time where we seemingly can’t escape from the harsh realities of the world, and while we cannot jump through different dimensions, social media has allowed us to plug into pretty much any place at any time which can only exacerbate those anxieties. The nihilistic worldview about nothing mattering can feel somewhat cathartic and is probably why Rick Sanchez resonates with so many people (see? This guy gets how screwed up and pointless everything is!), but this movie genuinely feels like an exercise in healing as it acknowledges that pain without letting it become the end all and be all of our lives. It’s a movie that finds room for both the existential dread of meaninglessness and powerlessness without letting them take away joy, happiness and the importance of individual people and the connections we make with them. To see a movie so effortlessly provide a counter to these arguments for utter detachment was truly refreshing and resonates so much more than I was expecting it to.
If you twist my arm about any flaws the movie might have, there’s a little bit of a slog in the first thirty or so minutes. It’s early enough that you don’t know what’s going on and Ke Huy Quan is throwing all these speeches at you in a way that’s a bit frustrating to follow; Intentionally so given that we’re supposed to be as much in Michelle Yeoh’s head as possible, but there’s a little bit too much technobabble and confusing concepts thrown at you early on that take a while to settle in. I also think the third act belabors the point a little bit, and while I couldn’t tell you exactly where to start shaving off minutes, a lot is going on and it can feel exhausting to watch it all play out; especially when there’s multiple narrative-shattering revelations happening back to back. Finally, and this is a pretty minor nitpick; I think Joy’s girlfriend (Tallie Medel) feels a bit underserved in the events of the movie. I get that the family is the main focus of the movie, particularly the relationship between her and her mother, but given the revelations throughout the story and the ultimate conclusions the movie makes, I feel like her presence was more than warranted yet she’s only really around to bookend things. Other than that, I don’t think there’s really anything worth complaining about, and I was stretching pretty far to find those in the first place!
The last movie I enjoyed as much as this was 2021’s Pig which ended up being my movie of the year, so that’s probably a good sign as to how fantastic this is. Comparing the two, I think I felt a bit more for Nicolas Cage’s journey and the depth of his sorrow than I did for Michelle Yeoh’s spiritual emptiness and familial trauma, but then Pig didn’t have nearly as many kung-fu action scenes so I think this one gets the lead by a hair. If you haven’t already, I implore you to check it out if it is safe for you to do so, because I doubt we’ll be seeing anything like it for years to come and it’s not something you’ll want to regret not seeing on the big screen when you had the chance. Hopefully, I did more justice when reviewing this Daniels film than I did the last one, and with two great films under their belt, they are swiftly becoming some of my favorite filmmakers to watch for. I’ll also give them extra credit if their next film is a dimension-hopping kung-fu movie with Danielle Radcliffe’s magic corpse from Swiss Army Man!