Search all of the infinite universes parallel to our own and it is unlikely you will find a film quite like Everything Everywhere All at Once. It’s a feat of imagination and filmmaking craft the likes of which you’ve never seen before. One could say it exists somewhere between Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Back to the Future, and Manifesto (that movie where Cate Blanchett delivers monologues across multiple identities), but even then it remains mostly indescribable, as fans of the filmmakers’ previous excursion, Swiss Army Man, probably understand. In that film, writers/directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (credited simply as Daniels) gave us what is often referred to as “the farting corpse movie,” but what could also be referred to as “the best movie of the 2010s.”
Well, that’s what I said about it, and I hold firm on that opinion.
With their latest outing, they up the scale on Swiss Army Man by just about every metric. It’s bigger (infinitely so), stranger, sillier, occasionally more abstract, and just as moving. It’s the best film of 2022 so far, and no amount of words I could put forth could properly capture its majesty. Honestly, I wouldn’t even know where to begin.
Everything Everywhere All at Once follows Evelyn Wang (the LEGENDARY Michelle Yeoh), an immigrant woman who runs a laundromat which doubles as a community center. The business is not going well, and she and her husband Waymond (the LEGENDARY Ke Huy Quan) are being audited by the IRS. Her father Gong Gong (the LEGENDARY James Hong) is visiting, and her daughter Joy (the soon to be LEGENDARY Stephanie Hsu) wants to introduce him to her new girlfriend. Unfortunately, same sex relationships are not something that Gong Gong would likely approve of, per Evelyn’s assumption. She’s not necessarily a control freak, but she does see herself as the foundation upon which her family rests, so between her personal issues and business woes, it’s a difficult time for Evelyn. She’d give anything to be living a different life — anything to go back in time and make a few different choices.
In the world of multiverse theories, it is said that every choice we make, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, creates a branch into a new, adjacent universe. One day, Evelyn sees this theory writ large when she is suddenly pulled into one of these side universes, warned of a multiversal threat, and advised that only she can prevent the complete collapse of all existence. As if she didn’t already have enough to do.
What follows is a stunning achievement in the management of insane imagery, clashing tones, and wild plot escalations that defy description, but which drive home an extremely effective and emotional story. Themes of aging, regret, parenthood, childhood, the changing of the times, changing with the times, preserving family, living in the moment, enjoying the sheer joy of the cosmic accident that we call existence — and probably about a million more things that I am not smart enough to elucidate after a single viewing. Yet even with all of this material, at no point does the film feel overstuffed with either plot or theme. It’s exactly the right mount of material to fill the runtime. That said, it’s a long film – over two hours – and you’re not going to want to take a bathroom break, so pee first. And if you’re a finicky eater, maybe make peace with the fact that you wont want a hot dog for a while afterwards. Or maybe you’ll want all of the hot dogs. Who can say?
Michelle Yeoh, who first came onto my radar way back in the day with Supercop (Police Story 3), has recently found mainstream success across many genres. It’s appropriate considering her skill set. She’s an actress, a martial artist, a singer, and now, an icon, and Daniels put every single one of her talents to good use. Across every universe we find an Evelyn Wang, and all are played by Michelle Yeoh, each in a unique way. It’s no exaggeration to say that Everything Everywhere All at Once is the best performance of her career, and she’s got a career chock full of good ones.
Yeoh isn’t alone in giving a moving, fulsome performance. In fact, there’s really no room for error across the board. A single step off of the masterfully managed tightrope of tone tone could damage the vibe that the movie offers, but this breach never occurs. Even Jamie Lee Curtis’ IRS agent, perhaps the most cartoonish character of the bunch, finds the perfect level of reality in which to mug and groan and steal the scene without ever upstaging anyone or upsetting the delicately balanced chaos. Like Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu also is tasked with playing many versions of the same character, and each feels as if they are the same person separated only by a life of compounded, innocuous decisions. If Daniels shot this movie chronologically, which I am sure they did not, a performance like Hsu’s would be near impossible to manage. I am in awe.
The best performance in the whole danged thing has to go to Ke Huy Quan. We all know him as a child performer when he played Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Data in and The Goonies, but what he does here goes beyond just being a charismatic, precocious youngster. Here, he is the emotional anchor of the film, representing those wonderful few who, despite their flaws, shortcomings, or lapses in taste, seem to exist just to support the lost ones amongst us. It’s a hell of a performance, and I hope it means we are about to see a lot more of Ke Huy Quan in the future. When he eventually leaves this earth, his memorial reel will be peppered by Data and Short Round, but it will be defined by a grand role that we haven’t seen yet (unless, of course, it’s this one, which would be more than deserved).
Through this framework, we also get to see Daniels show off what they do best as crafty filmmakers. In such a vast multiverse there is room to span multiple genres, and to put forth some of the most insane imagery you’ve ever seen. The device through which Evelyn can bounce between universes would be impossible to explain outright, yet its easy to learn in Daniels’ deranged hands, and through Evelyn’s eyes. As with Inception, the how is integrated with the why. Where Everything Everywhere All At Once differs from Nolan’s sleeper caper is its sense of humor, which serves to expand the scope of imagination and allow for literally anything to happen. And I mean literally. Real literally, not the new literally that doesn’t mean literally. Anything can happen, and frequently does. It’s perfectly managed chaos of sight, sound, and story, and through the zaniness, an endearing story of what it means to be a human emerges. It’s a comedy, a thriller, a sci-fi flick, and an investigation into why we call them Everything Bagels. Most importantly, it’s a fable about love, and not that boring type of love where movies treat it like a magic spell. This is about real, honest to god, “we do the work because we love” love, and it rocks.
Speaking of rocks, there’s this one scene. This one scene. It’s insane and beautiful and goofy and playful and profound and kind and cruel and monumental. It’s a teensy weensy piece of a huge movie that playfully kicks the audience in the face with the entire scope of everything ever. All at once. You’ll know it when you see it.
Directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
Written by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
Starring Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, James Hong
Rated R, 132 minutes