Every now and again, a film comes along that redefines how we view cinema. In 1999, we entered The Matrix, captivated by bullet-time technology and a life-altering concept that had us questioning our reality. 2010 introduced us to Inception, and, along with Hans Zimmer’s iconic score, transported audiences into a mind heist for the ages. In 2022, that prestige rightfully belongs to the new A24 movie, Everything Everywhere All At Once.
Film hype is a risky emotion. With cinemas transforming themselves into event entities, every film naturally comes with the wondering caveat on whether they’ll meet expectations. But Daniels – Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert – the directors of Everything Everywhere prove their bold, adventurous, and audacious film is worth the admission price.
Multiverses are all the rage these days – a fact cemented with Marvel’s What If, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Spider-Man: No Way Home, Rick & Morty, and the upcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Setting aside Hollywood, and Marvel’s, reliance on the medium as a storytelling convention or the validating degree of fan service, the connected investment of other worlds and alternate lives of its heroes are here to stay. The imaginative possibilities are endless, where there are so many stories to tell.
Using this cue, Daniels tap themselves into this trending culture. Following a history of short films, music videos, and a cult classic in Swiss Army Man, their latest feature Everything Everywhere All At Once, complements its association with the multiverse, yet follows the same commentary on how the mechanics and philosophy work.
However, where Everything Everywhere All At Once and its original concept distinguishes itself is in its celebration of the ordinary within the extraordinary. There are no superheroes to be found (unless you’re counting the excellent Michelle Yeoh). It feels anti-Hollywood, made with a rebellious indie spirit far from the assembly line of IP commercialisation, for the total embrace of Daniels’ creative vision and experimental direction.
It’s certainly unconventional, freeing itself from the constraints of predictability where nothing quite prepares you for the glorious fever dream you witness on the screen. And it is the ‘roads not taken’ that forms the basis of Daniels’ grounded exploration.
In the multiverse of life, we’re thrown into the chaotic and crumbling world of Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) – a Chinese-American woman who’s drowning in responsibilities, burdens, and tax receipts. Her laundromat business is one false move away from repossession from the IRS, thanks to three-times Auditor of the Year, Deirdre Beaubeirdra (Jamie Lee Curtis). Her relationship with her husband Waymond (KeHuy Quan) is a marital mess, she’s at odds with her lesbian daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu), and takes care of her disapproving elderly father (played by the magnificent James Hong). Life is against her, with unfulfilled dreams and failing expectations – until she discovers one day that the fate of the multiverse rests upon her shoulders.
Without journeying too far into spoiler territory, even the synopsis doesn’t do it justice! It’s hard to quantify the magnitude of Everything Everywhere All At Once, a film which possesses every genre known to cinema. Scenes are shot with beautiful, cultural tributes to Wong Kar-Wai and every martial arts movie to have ever existed (including the comedic, action poetry of Jackie Chan). Homages to The Matrix (and the classic mythology of ‘The One’), and Disney Pixar’s Ratatouille are like a geeky treasure trove for Easter Eggs.
The slick editing and its sublime, kaleidoscopic cinematography harmonise to work their magic through the various mind-bending shifts between tone and aspect ratios. The script – penned by Daniels – has a great sense of humour, dialling up the absurdity to eleven. With so many verse-jumping elements to juggle, the resounding question you’re left with is how the hell did anyone come up with this? Because the ambition, the detail, the imagination, and the craft on display are so insane that you wished you were a fly on the wall during the pitch meeting with A24! In essence, what Daniels have created is a love letter to cinema.
The sheer amount of fun means there’s never a dull moment. At 2 hours and 19 minutes, the runtime contains some incredible concepts based around the alphaverse, the villainous Jobu Tupaki (who threatens to destroy the universe), and the infinite versions of Evelyn in existence (who are superficially living their best lives). For present-verse Evelyn, it’s an opportunity to realise her potential, and the film’s licence to be as silly as it wants.
Daniels display an indulgence for world-building, but Everything Everywhere All At Once tackles something beautifully simplistic. With social anxieties, fears, and the overwhelming lack of empathy in the world, the relatable themes of generational trauma take centre stage. These emotions, anchored by parental expectations, and a mother-daughter relationship in desperate need of repair, ensure the film never loses sight of its heartfelt objective.
As much as Everything Everywhere All At Once is a journey into the unknown, where a multiverse full of hot dog hands exists, or chomping on lip-balm is an upgrade to grand mastery of kung-fu powers, the intimacy and emotional honesty the film exudes belongs to Yeoh and Hsu.
Having been a fan of her work since I first saw her in Yes, Madam! and Police Story 3: Supercop, Michelle Yeoh finally gets her due in a leading role in a Hollywood movie. It’s what the living legend deserves, the film serving as a celebration of her career. You can see why she relished the opportunity to play Evelyn – the reluctant hero who transitions onto a path of self-discovery, empowerment, and enlightenment.
Carrying the weight of the film, she fills every frame with emotional depth and exhilaration that is a showcase for her dramatic, comedic and action qualities. Every ‘Evelyn’ she plays is a representation of womanhood. She exemplifies the film’s ultimate message about human connections and the ‘superpower’ we all contain. Without a doubt, it’s one of the best roles in her filmography.
Stephanie Hsu is equally outstanding in a multifaceted and nuanced performance echoing teenage disconnect and struggles in finding yourself in the universe. And call it the nostalgia in playing Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom or as Data in The Goonies, but it’s good to see Ke Huy Quan back in the acting game (having retired due to a lack of Asian roles in Hollywood). In Everything Everywhere, there’s a playfulness to his performance as he switches between Waymond and his alphaverse version. And naturally, that brings a smile to your face whenever he’s on-screen.
Everything Everywhere All At Once is a mind-blowing experience. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and be left in awe at how special this film is. This is one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time, one which smartly combines the existential with the poignancy of life and its relationships. It’s time to accept this fact: this is Michelle Yeoh’s world, and we’re just living in it. This is the film of the year!