“Everything Everywhere All at Once,” directed by the Daniels a.k.a. filmmakers Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (“Swiss Army Man”), is an exciting movie that makes the argument that there is every conceivable variation of our lives that exist in an alternate universe. We walk through these worlds with a heroine (Michelle Yeoh) who, when we first meet her, is the most unlikely soul to lead change of any kind.
This is the kind of movie that makes you think and the filmmakers are slavishly meticulous with every shot that fits perfectly inside the world as created and executed by the Daniels.
I think the Daniels wanted “Everything Everywhere All at Once” to jolt the viewer, and to meet that goal they delivered an unparalleled sensory-overload experience, I mean, if you blink you might miss an important visual clue. The film moves fast, and to make the experience even more exciting, it’s a multilingual film with the key characters speaking in Chinglish (Chinese/English).
Yeoh plays immigrant matriarch Evelyn Wang, who switches between using English, Cantonese, and Mandarin, sometimes in mid-sentence. She operates a laundromat with her husband Raymond (Ke Huy Quan) and we meet them at a tender time, being audited by the IRS. The pressure mounts; as if the tax issue isn’t enough to drive a mind crazy, she’s burdened with social problems. For example, she can’t seem to please her father. Nothing she does will ever be good enough for Gong Gong (James Hong). You can imagine the foundation of her life because that’s the way Evelyn treats her frustrated adult daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu).
Life is getting harder for her. Raymond has drawn up divorce papers, but something odd stops him from serving them. He’s overcome by an unusual sensation on the way to the tax office, and here’s where it starts to get “odd”—ready? Another version of Raymond, from a parallel universe, suddenly occupies his body. Using a quick mental scan of this version of Evelyn, he tells her how to access her alternate lives, how to unlock all kinds of crazy, off-the-wall things.
Any sane person, which Evelyn is, would not know what to think but she follows Raymond’s directions, which gives her the ability to “verse-jump” which she tries, in the middle of the Wang family’s meeting with Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis), a grumpy IRS agent.
And the Daniels make sure we feel her maiden verse-jump inside the janitor’s closet, where split screens and odd visual effects express how it feels for Evelyn to be carrying on conversations in two places at once.
Raymond explains the rules that an alternate Evelyn has discovered, a physicist in another dimension, and this Evelyn learns that she is not cool and is living the “worst” version of herself. This means that all of the other possible Evelyns made more successful life choices.
For example, one version is a huge Hong Kong action star, others are a maid, an opera singer, a teppanyaki-style chef, and more.
It’s a visual smorgasbord and the Daniels present as many of these possible realities as possible in short, funny, tiny sketches. It’s absurd and fun—for example, there is a universe in which everyone has hot dogs for fingers and a world where people are mind-controlled by raccoons.
There is a shift into a spooky, apocalyptic mode where a demented alternate version of Deirdre comes after Evelyn with a vengeance, but she’s not the true bad guy here. The real threat is Evelyn’s daughter, Joy, who she’s burdened with a lifetime of crushing disappointments, to the point that little Joy finally snaps. In losing her cool, she reinvented herself as an entity known as Jobu Tupaki, who moves from universe to universe murdering Evelyns, making sure to leave a trail of chaos in her wake.
The Daniels are solid storytellers and as such, they make sense of chaos, and we happily embrace and amplify the sensation. Visually the editor keeps pace, and the score by Son Lux makes you lean in.
“Everything Everywhere All at Once” acknowledges that life and living “life” can be overwhelming, and we all know that family dynamics are tricky, and let’s be frank—this world isn’t fair. But believe it or not, the
Daniels created a hopeful movie and it’s funny. For example, how can you not laugh when a giant everything bagel comes bursting through a parallel dimension to gobble up all that Evelyn holds dear?
It’s interesting to note that despite the 12 worlds only 10 principal characters, in this film, live in them. This is smart storytelling and by keeping the cast bite-sizable, we can distinguish between the various realities—including one where Evelyn and Joy are rocks.
Confident in their brand, the Daniels have made a film that mirrors their off-the-wall sense of humor.
“Everything Everywhere All at Once” delivers a wallop in what could be described as an emotionally draining 139 minutes. Is the film ambitious? You bet it is!