As a jaded, middle-aged millennial, it’s hard for me to get truly excited about many new films or games being released. I’ve spent the majority of my life engaged with different forms of media and it feels like I’ve seen it all. People will quickly go onto social media after watching the latest Hollywood tentpole and proclaim it changed their lives, but I mostly give a shrug of indifference towards things. That’s not to say I dislike or hate newer films, but more that nothing surprises me anymore.
That’s what makes a film like Everything Everywhere All At Once so astounding. While I was looking forward to the movie solely because of Michelle Yeoh, I truly didn’t think it would wind up being this multi-layered story about the choices we make, the people we spend our time with, and the various different paths we gave up to spend time with the people we love.
That and at one point, a man with no pants vaults an office cubicle to plunge himself on a butt plug to enter a multi-verse shift. Yeah, this film is ridiculously wild.
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Everything Everywhere All At Once
Directors: Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
Release Date: March 25, 2022 (Limited), April 8, 2022 (Theatrical)
It’s hard to distill the essence of Everything Everywhere All At Once into a few sentences since the film deals with a lot of topics at the same time. The setup is that a Chinese woman named Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) is running a laundromat with her husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), and is struggling to stay afloat. With an IRS audit looming over them, Evelyn’s father, Gong Gong (James Hong), arrives from China on the same day that her daughter, Joy (Stephanie), brings home her girlfriend, Becky (Tallie Medel). All of this on top of planning a Chinese New Year party for the community and it’s not hard to guess that things eventually implode.
That implosion, though, is where the story drifts from the completely ordinary. While on the elevator up to meet their IRS agent, Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis), Waymond suddenly opens an umbrella and starts spouting off ludicrous stuff to Evelyn. He describes a multi-verse where different versions of her are living out their lives and she is able to channel their energy into her own. He gives her instructions on how to engage in this before snapping back to his regular self, leaving Evelyn in shock.
Not quite sure what she has seen, especially since her entire life just flashed before her eyes, Evelyn starts daydreaming during their IRS meeting and eventually follows the instructions Waymond gave her. After a few brief moments, she’s now in the IRS janitor’s closet in another dimension, getting a crash course on whatever the hell is going on here.
For the first act of Everything Everywhere All At Once, the viewers will be just as bedazzled and confused as Evelyn. There is a lot of information to take in, the least of which is that directors The Daniels are seemingly huge fans of that Jet Li movie The One. Much like how Evelyn struggles to accept the concept is of multiple dimensions co-existing at once, the film simply presents the information and has you deal with it. You’ll be trying to piece things together as you watch Waymond pull off his best Bruce Lee impersonation while swinging a fanny pack around like nunchucks.
It’s not long before the true nature of this story gives way. For as grand in scale the ideas are here, the very core of Everything Everywhere All At Once is a story about the human condition. It’s about how seemingly little things can pile up until they become gigantic snowballs. It’s about the divides we put between ourselves since we don’t know how to properly express our emotions. It’s about the choices we could have made and the ones we stuck to because of our love and devotion to one another.
A simple review will never be enough to extrapolate all of the themes and messages that the Daniels have crammed into this film. At a running time of 139 minutes, I believe even the duration is a contemplation on how having access to unlimited knowledge can drain us of our enjoyment of minute things. I want to put belabored pacing as a negative, but I’m not quite sure if it’s an intentional move. It’s also not even that big of a negative as the rest of the film gets pretty cerebral with its ideas.
I won’t spoil specific plot points or moments, but it’s fascinating how otherwise trashy items become significant objects. The iconography seen throughout Everything Everywhere All At Once starts off feeling random, but then comes full circle to be beautiful, insightful, and simply funny. Typically speaking, the movies that receive heaps of praise from critics tend to have a stick up their own asses, but the Daniels understand how otherwise mundane or childish objects can have a profound meaning to the way we view life.
That philosophy even applies to things like dialogue and musical score. I did a double-take when Waymond worked in a line from Nine Days’ “Absolutely (Story of a Girl),” but then was floored when the song actually showed up in another scene. Not only that, it started to become a recurring theme. Why the hell does anyone remember Nine Days? As stupid as I may find that song, it has importance to someone out there and it has now been immortalized here.
About the only thing that doesn’t feel quite as considered is the action choreography. I don’t write that to say the action is bad because it’s not. A lot of it is filmed in the typical Hong Kong manner of wide angles and sustained shots, only cutting when someone like Jamie Lee Curtis is flipping around. It’s more that I don’t quite see how Evelyn performing Tai Chi specifically relates to the plot, other than being a neat callback to Michelle Yeoh’s real-life career. When every other moment has a thematic element that ties into the greater story, the action can feel a bit random.
At the same time, you also have a scene where Stephanie Hsu beats a man to death with dildos and where James Hong slams into her with a motorized wheelchair. Jenny Slate (in a small guest appearance) even gets a moment that is way too outrageous to spoil. There’s definitely stuff you’ve probably never seen or even considered in here, but the fight scenes are not the main focus. Those looking for another Michelle Yeoh vehicle to add to their Kung Fu collection will need to look elsewhere… though major props for including her iconic stance from Police Story 3: Supercop.
Try as I might to frame anything as a negative, however, I’m drawing a blank on what I would change or like to see edited here. Everything Everywhere All At Once isn’t a perfect film, but somehow I think that is a part of the message. As the film points out in one of its more outlandish moments, we’re all “little pieces of shit” in the grand scheme of things. Events that feel like the entire world to us mean nothing in the end. We don’t have to retreat into lethargy and nihilism. We can still fight for the things we do care about.
I’m also stunned at the reverence The Daniels have for Yeoh as a woman. In one of her trips through a different universe, Evelyn gets to see herself as a martial artist, and the footage used is just shots of Yeoh’s professional life. I nearly cried when footage from the red-carpet premiere of Crazy Rich Asians was included because this movie feels like a love letter not only to Yeoh but to the women who didn’t make the same choices as her. To those that decided to be a housewife or a laundromat owner or an IRS accountant. They are all important and beautiful and deserve your full respect.
I made it a point to start this review by stating that a lot of things don’t bring me enjoyment anymore because that is a core theme contained within Everything Everywhere All At Once. When your perspective is limited by what you consider to be “everything,” you start to regress into a spiteful, angry person that closes their eyes and plugs their ears to whatever beauty may be out there. Even if you truly had the ability to be in every multi-verse imaginable, there would still be something worth fighting for in one of those.
I’m sure I will return to this movie in the future and find even more things to talk about. I’m leaving out quite a bit because discussing all of the highlights would ruin a lot of the fun. Everything Everywhere All At Once certainly has enough depth to remain enjoyable even with spoilers, but you owe it to yourself to see this as blind as possible. If you’ve ever felt down about life or cursed a decision you made or just love something as silly as googly eyes, Everything Everywhere All At Once will speak to you on a spiritual level.
Also, it’s about God damned time that Michelle Yeoh got a starring role in a Hollywood production that doesn’t devolve her talents into “badass karate lady.”