Everything Everywhere All At Once (Film Review): Loving Insanity
Spectacular, unapologetically crazy, and disarmingly moving, Everything Everywhere All at Once is a triumph unlike anything else moviegoers can find right now.
Let me tell you, I can’t think of a better film to have as my first ever festival screening than Everything Everywhere All at Once. Not only was this my most anticipated film of South By Southwest, but it’s one of the most memorable, imaginative, and absolutely insane experiences that any film could ever give you. This science-fiction comedy comes to us from directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (collectively known as Daniels), the duo behind 2016’s excellent and very weird Swiss Army Man … a film that now looks incredibly tame when compared to what they’ve done here!
Michelle Yeoh plays Evelyn Wang, a middle-aged Chinese immigrant in America who’s struggling financially and growing increasingly estranged from her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) and daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu), particularly upon the arrival of her traditional, disapproving father (James Hong). But when she comes across a version of her husband from an alternate universe, she finds herself thrust into the multiverse herself, and now she must learn how to harness the abilities and memories of her own dimensional counterparts to save the world from a rising threat to all of existence.
There’s been a lot of discussion surrounding multiverse stories in comic book movies nowadays, primarily with Marvel and DC movies. But with the possible exception of Across the Spider-Verse later this year, I’m going to predict right here and now that none of those upcoming releases will come anywhere close to embracing the multiverse concept to the degree that Everything Everywhere All at Once does. This film is completely, unapologetically out of its mind when it comes to the visuals and humor that it throws our way at breakneck speeds. The initial concept of how multiverse counterparts interact with one another seems grounded enough, presenting really fun ideas with how the characters need to channel certain memories or traits about other versions of themselves to gain abilities those versions have learned … But the ways such traits are channeled include characters confessing romantic love to the person trying to kill them, giving themselves multiple papercuts, and shoving pointy trophies objects up their asses. And those are some of the less bizarre things that happen in the film.
The dimensions themselves make way for some of the most outlandish visual humor you’ll find in any comedy. There’s a dimension where everyone has giant sausages for fingers, a dimension where someone is controlled by a raccoon pulling his hair, and a dimension where life never formed on earth and two characters are literal rocks with googly eyes, the latter of which is also the setting to a big dramatic moment! I’m really only touching the tip of the iceberg here. Everything Everywhere All at Once contains so much more unbelievably weird imagery and physical humor, to a point where I’m a little bewildered (and grateful) that even the typically-risqué A24 was willing to take a gamble on it.
The multiverse, by definition, is a construct of literally infinite possibilities, and Everything Everywhere All at Once is fully aware of that, utilizing every single creative muscle it can to take the potential of a multiverse story to perhaps the farthest, most hilarious limits it can possibly go within a single film. The film begins at a very brisk pace and almost never eases up in that regard, delivering joke after joke that had me and the rest of the audience often howling with laughter. Every so often the jokes felt too frequent, not giving a dramatic moment enough time to sink in, but these instances are rare.
But like Swiss Army Man, all of this madness either properly furthers the plot (or at least doesn’t stand in its way) or fuels the characters’ journeys. There’s a lot more to this sci-fi comedy than just the madhouse I’ve described. A lot of complex and confusing turmoil is at the center of what every character is going through, particularly Evelyn and Joy. Michelle Yeoh gives one of the most demanding performances any actor could give. She needs to be afraid, subtly sad, empowering, comedic both visually and verbally, and give some sort of grounding to her character’s off-the-rails experiences. Stephanie Hsu has an equally daunting role for different reasons. She’s given a lot of lines and costumes that need to come across as either funny, tragic, intimidating, or up to all three at once, and she sells all of it. Ke Huy Quan brings gentle sympathy to Waymond, as well as resourcefulness to his alternate counterpart, and Jamie Lee Curtis (playing Evelyn’s IRS inspector) manages to really ham it up in some scenes but then be soft and vulnerable in others.
I’ve had my reservations about multiverse stories in big blockbuster comic book movies, but I generally see a lot of potential with them not just from a creative standpoint, but an emotional one too. Imagining the endless possibilities that could come from making a key few different choices at a key few different times opens up a massive can of existential worms that Everything Everywhere All at Once dives headfirst into. Some characters regret not taking actions that would change their lives, while others are completely overwhelmed by just how manypossibilities are out there. Some try to make logical sense out of this frightening reality, while others take on a nihilistic viewpoint that nothing makes sense and therefore nothing matters. The fun of how this film handles these differences comes from how they merge. Characters learn to bring physical and mental elements from one dimension into another on the fly, making for some outrageous (and sometimes brutal) action sequences. The fight choreography is amazing, some of the best I’ve seen in a non-martial-arts film since The Matrix, and Evan Halleck and Zak Stoltz deserve massive praise for their work on the visual effects.
But it’s not the major differences between dimensions that I find the most fascinating, but the major similarities. No matter how extreme or small a situation any set of versions of a character finds themselves in, there’s always at least one connecting thread that reminds you they’re still the same person. Whether it be similar mistakes with similar results, seeing how personality traits that are visible in one dimension are much more buried in another due to where their different lives took them, or the merging and conflicts of different versions’ minds within a single version’s mind, there are a lot of ways that the film messes with how we perceive every character.
We can’t always tell whether someone’s behavior is part of that counterpart’s original makeup, or how much one counterpart is feeding into another as they intersect. On top of that, the film touches heavily upon generational trauma and the ways it’s passed down. Evelyn was affected by her father’s rejection of her past decisions and fears her daughter turning out like her, but her parenting – including the way she hides Joy’s same-sex relationship from her traditional father – seems to only be fulfilling that fear. She’s failing to make a different path that will give a better life for her daughter, which, in a way, is similar to having a multiverse of possibilities but sticking to one route. So even within a single timeline, the themes of choice, possibilities, and growth are prominent.
The only major drawback of Everything Everywhere All at Once is that the second half really feels long. It feels like there are three separate climaxes, and each time you think the film has reached its peak and is about to decrescendo, it just keeps going. Nothing about it is bad – some of the best scenes of the movie happen here – but so many crazy things occur one by one by one that your mind may go a bit numb. At the same time, though, I can’t think of any scene that should have been outright removed, and most sequence would have been lessened by getting trimmed down. So, it is tricky to judge the film for this, but that doesn’t change how fatiguing the third act is and how that somewhat crowds an otherwise heavy emotional payoff.
But that fatigue was quickly forgotten soon after I left the theater, and I instead now find myself only thinking about the astonishingly imaginative, heartfelt, hilarious ride that Everything Everywhere All at Once gave me. It received a huge extended round of applause at the screening, and it earned every second of that. I also heard a few people getting choked up, and even Jamie Lee Curtis, who was seeing the film for the first time with us, admitted to crying over the film. Despite how unabashedly bonkers so much of it is, Everything Everywhere All at Once has something for almost everyone. It miraculously manages to mix its highly ridiculous humor with its deeply personal, human storylines to create a film unlike any other. Daniels have officially positioned themselves among the most exciting, original, unmistakably unique directors working today. What they’ve done here needs to be seen by everyone, on the big screen and with a crowd (assuming you feel safe enough to do so). If not enough people go out to see it and it doesn’t do well financially, then I’m frankly not sure this is a dimension I want to be a part of.
Everything Everywhere All At Once premiered at SXSW 2022 on March 11, 2022, was released in US theaters on March 25, and will be available to own from June 7. Get the exclusive 8-minute blooper reel with purchase on Apple TV.