‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’ is a miracle in its mere existence
The latest from filmmaking duo Daniels is astounding just for how legible it is, let alone for the fact that it’ll also be one of the year’s best films
What decisions have you made that led to where you are now? This is a question that we all ask, considering every choice we make reverberates throughout our lives in ways we could not possibly fully grasp. Everything Everywhere All At Once, from filmmakers Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, opens up every decision ever made by its protagonist Evelyn to find meaning in the unfathomable. What the film manages to do is nothing short of stunning, as it finely juggles comedy, action and emotion in its powerful rejection of nihilism and accepting meaninglessness, all the while dishing out some of the most wonderfully weird ideas in recent cinematic memory.
Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) lives what can be considered a standardly heartbreaking life at the beginning of Everything Everywhere. She is a Chinese immigrant dealing with incredible difficulty running a business and keeping her familial life in check. The IRS is on her back about her tax deductions. Her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) doesn’t feel accepted for her sexuality. Her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) is about to file for divorce, although she might not know it on the day the film starts. Yet right in the middle of the IRS office, an alternate version of her husband travels to her reality, warning her of incoming multidimensional danger. The threat, known as Jobu Tupaki, is supposedly looking for Evelyn, for reasons that soon become clear as the film unravels. As such, Evelyn must learn how to use multiversal technology to fight off Jobu Tupaki and harness the power of her other selves to save the worlds.
I know for certain that I haven’t done the setup of this film justice. Everything Everywhere starts with a 15-minute sequence of pure stress to understand the difficulties of being Evelyn Wang, which is shot with a certain freneticism that’s only a taste of what’s to come. However, the film diverges from this crushing reminder of reality rather quickly as the multiverse is introduced to Evelyn and the audience. Through earpiece technology from the ‘Alpha’ universe, a user is able to know an alternate version of oneself and gain their abilities and memories. Evelyn uses this to very quickly learn martial arts and other strange abilities, but in doing so exposes herself to the multitude of realities and Evelyns that exist out there. She is exposed to, well, everything everywhere all at once, and goes on a journey of self-discovery in a multiverse of infinite potential.
Everything Everywhere’s core of brilliance lies in its balance. The film thrives in its excess rather than in spite of it, all the while its script manages to be witty, charming, and surprisingly tender across 140 minutes. No small part of the film’s genuine quality is due to the performances. Although everyone is exceptional here, Michelle Yeoh gives an all-time performance as Evelyn. She endows every moment of this film with greatness, her incredible acting range coalescing in her turns as an action star, caring mother, and comic performer in one movie. It’s hard to imagine anyone but her in this role considering her exceptionality in committing to the strange and sweet present in Daniels’ film. Ke Huy Quan as Waymond and Stephanie Hsu as Joy are similarly brilliant, the main trio of actors creating a believable family dynamic that is the crux of Everything Everywhere. It’s unbelievable that Huy Quan and Hsu aren’t in more projects, considering they well and truly match the brilliance of Michelle Yeoh in this film. Jamie Lee Curtis also appears as an IRS agent with many faces across reality, and she wears all those faces terrifically.
Extra props have to be given to these actors considering many of the scenes are nothing short of utterly insane. Although their previous film Swiss Army Man is an unashamedly bizarre film, Everything Everywhere genuinely had me wondering how these ideas got from the Daniels’ heads to a page to the screen. The film bursts with boundless creativity and charm, the likes of which I have maybe never experienced in a film before. The action scenes in particular are shot with incredible choreography and lucidity. One early fight involves the unlikely use of a bumbag as an impromptu weapon, and the camera follows the bag while extrapolating coolness out of every frame of the fight. Part of the fun of watching the film is just the anticipation of what bizarre thing Daniels have lined up next, diving in and out of meta storytelling across a variety of incredibly well-realised versions of reality. There is lots of loving cinematic homage here too — I really appreciated the way that Daniels used different filmmaking approaches and aesthetics to differ between its many realities, utilising everything from changing aspect ratios to Wong Kar-Wai aesthetics. Its foundations rumble at points underneath lots of techno-babble and sci-fi explanations, but Everything Everywhere miraculously navigates its minor runtime and over-stuffing issues by, above all else, expertly balancing fun and emotion.
Despite all the strangeness that makes Everything Everywhere a genuine joy to watch, the way that the story unfolds was a point of great interest to me as it began to dive into greater questions that we can understand through our own reality. If Evelyn is one of the trillions of Evelyns, what meaning is there in actually being Evelyn? Through her performance, Yeoh is able to capture this feeling of melancholic existentialism and conveys the absurdity of the great question in many of our lives — why exactly do we matter? Although it would be easy to concede to the textbook internet nihilism of the last five years, I appreciate that Daniels took a different approach to their exploration of existential dread by choosing to find meaning in the personal rather than in the universe itself in a way that I genuinely thought was gorgeous.
Everything Everywhere All At Once is a potent exploration of the meaning of the self seen through a kaleidoscopic lens of chaos and creativity. Although another multiverse of madness lands in a mere few weeks, the latest film from Daniels will likely prove to be the definitive film on the concept. Like the existence of multiple universes itself, it is manic, bizarre, unhinged, and overwhelming. Yet amidst all the chaos is an undeniably human element that elevates the film past its mere concepts and creativity, and to an early contender for the best film of 2022.
‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’ is playing in theatres now