‘Everything, Everywhere, All at Once’ is Wonderful, Beautiful Madness

Coming off of last month’s X, I didn’t think it was possible for me to love A24 any more than I already did.

Boy, was I wrong about that.

If you have even a casual interest in film, odds are you’ve been hearing quite a bit of buzz about Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s (or simply Daniels, as the duo call themselves) new film Everything, Everywhere, All at Once. Reviewers, filmmakers, and casual audiences alike have been singing the film’s praises ever since its limited release earlier this month, hyping up its status as the best of the year so far, if not a contender for one of the greatest films of all time. As usual, I was optimistic, but aware of social media’s tendency towards hyperbole. I’ve been promised that many, many movies were essentially the filmic equivalent of the Second Coming over the years, and almost none of them have lived up to their overblown reputations (looking at you, The Irishman).

But holy shit.

This film… I honestly have no idea how to even talk about it. It so greatly defies explanation or categorization that I almost feel that to try and pigeonhole it into any sort of genre or archetype would be doing it a profound, criminal disservice. It’s so bizarre, so inventive, so chaotic that I’m genuinely not sure that I have the strength as a writer to properly convey to you its quality. To quote Jodie Foster from Contact: “They should have sent a poet.”

And yet, I’m going to try my damnedest, because if I’m able to convince even one of you to see this movie in a theater, I’ve done a greater service to the universe than perhaps I ever have. Maybe ever will.

The basic premise (if the movie can be said to have one) is this: Evelyn, a stressed-out, apathetic and borderline manic depressive wife/mother/laundromat owner/karaoke enthusiast played by the legendary Michelle Yeoh, is contacted by her husband’s counterpart from a parallel universe while being audited by the IRS. This heroic, forward-thinking, and innately charismatic version of her childish, easily-overwhelmed partner explains that the multiverse is in grave danger, being systematically destroyed by a near-omniscient power that intends to find her and kill her. Evelyn must learn to travel the multiverse and access the skills and abilities of all her parallel selves to save not only herself and her family, but all of existence along the way.

Just writing that out feels reductive and, well, wrong. That’s because there’s so much more to Everything, Everywhere than what its seemingly trite sci-fi synopsis would otherwise suggest. To try and fit the story into that framework is impossible, because the places this film goes far exceed those narrow boundaries. Even by multiversal standards.

If you’ve seen the directors’ previous film, Swiss Army Man, you have a vague idea of what to expect here: A heartfelt, poignant tale presented in the most outlandish way imaginable.

Everything, Everywhere, All at Once is anarchy on film. It’s madness made physical, extruded through an acid trip, baked in hellfire, wrapped in a karate gi and then served in a kaleidoscopic Happy Meal box. And the toy that it comes with is a butt plug (I swear this makes sense once you’ve seen the movie). It’s one of the most batshit crazy things I’ve ever bore witness to, and I couldn’t stop smiling the entire time. It’s a fantasy adventure like The Princess Bride, crossed with heady, metaphorical sci-fi like The Matrix, and then infused with the heartwarming, life-affirming, feel-good (if off-kilter) philosophy of Little Miss Sunshine.

If none of this makes any sense to you whatsoever, then congratulations: You know exactly what it’s like to watch the first two acts of this film. The plot is zany and maniacal, with the pace and tongue-in-cheek tone of a Chuck Jones Looney Tunes cartoon. It’s hilarious in ways that are sometimes gross, often nonsensical, and frequently, morbidly dark. It doesn’t quite break the fourth wall, and yet it very, very closely skirts the lines between self-awareness and outright acknowledgement of the audience. I found myself laughing harder watching this film, which isn’t explicitly a comedy, than I have with anything else in recent memory.

It’s a true assault on the senses in the best way possible. Visually, it’s an absolute feast for the eyes. Evelyn’s free-fall through the many worlds and branches of the multiverse are met with a hyperactive, ever-changing composition of imagery and cinematography. One world is a Hong Kong Kung Fu epic. Another looks like a mid-2010s Kanye West Music video. There’s stop-motion, Japanese-style anime, and even sentient rocks. A raccoon controls a chef like Remy from Ratatouille. People have hot dogs for fingers. It’s a gorgeous, discombobulating cavalcade of lunacy. The cinematography and visual effects are nothing short of art. The fact that this film looks as good as it does on a $25 million budget frankly puts all other major studio films to shame for looking as bland and uninspired as they do with the nine-digit figures they eat through during their production.

But wacky humor and some pretty visuals do not an amazing film make. A memorable one, sure, but not necessarily something worth writing home about. Where Everything, Everywhere truly shines is in its remarkable character work. The film manages to use its fantastical and seemingly random narrative structure to tell a deeply moving and intensely resonant story about the rejection of nihilism and the ability to adapt to and move along from failure and disappointment. It’s a film about a person’s place in the world (the universe, really), and how much our own expectations can sour the achievements and the happiness that we already have, right under our noses. It’s about acceptance, about love, about our priorities and our ambitions. It’s the kind of film that will stay in your head for days, making you genuinely question and reevaluate aspects of your own life. I’m fairly young, only in my mid-twenties, and it had a powerful effect on me. I can’t imagine being the target age for the film’s themes; I suspect they hit like a nuclear warhead.

And all of this manages to land not just because of the masterful direction behind the camera, not just because of the heartfelt, authentic writing, but because of the performances. Michelle Yeoh is a guaranteed delight no matter what she’s in, but this film gives her more substance and emotional depth than she’s perhaps had in her entire career to play with. We traditionally know her as a stoic, tough-to-crack warrior type (of which she certainly displays plenty of here as well), but Everything, Everywhere gives her a chance to truly shine as a complex, vulnerable, flawed character. It’s a career-defining performance, one that proves that her power as an actor goes well beyond just her grace and physicality. If she doesn’t get a Best Actress nomination at the Oscars next year, then we truly need to burn the Academy to the ground.

Yeoh is supported by a cast of equally magnificent and wholly memorable performers, all who bring their absolute A-game to this spectacle of delightful nonsense. The stand-out is her husband, Waymond, played by The Goonies and Temple of Doom icon Ke Huy Quan in his first major role in nearly 20 years after retiring from acting in 2002. In a lot of ways, Quan has the most difficult task out of everyone else in the film: Not only does he have to believably portray the lovably naïve and soft-hearted Waymond in the film’s ‘main’ universe, he must also play all of his parallel counterparts, who contrast him greatly. In one seen, he’s a clumsy goof; In the next, he’s a hardened soldier, followed swiftly by a universe in which he’s a suave, Tony Leung In the Mood for Love impersonator. And you never once question the authenticity of any of these versions of the character. He’s a chameleon in the truest sense of the word, flexing stronger acting muscles after a decades-long hiatus than most working actors alive today. It’s his character that drives a lot of the film’s most emotionally resonant moments, and he carries that weight with effortless and delightful ease.

Stephanie Hsu, who you might recognize from Prime’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, plays Joy, the Wang family’s seemingly aimless and angsty daughter, who has perhaps the most complex role in the film’s plot. She’s a catalyst for both the emotional and physical conflicts in the film, and to say any more would spoil some of its best moments. But suffice it so say, she carries her portions of the film just as skillfully as her older costars, if not more so in a few fantastic moments. James Hong is also there, doing the typical James Hong thing, which is always a delight. And Jamie Lee Curtis gets to really show her silly side as the IRS agent who’s been harassing the Wang family, joining them in their universe-hopping journey.

All of this is just a very long-winded way of stating a very simple fact: Everyone in this film is flawlessly good.

And really, the same can be said about everything in this film. Everywhere. And all at once, too. I haven’t found myself this entranced by a film from start to finish in a long, long, time. I remember consciously thinking to myself more than once during its runtime that I was witnessing something that I’m never going to forget. Calling this film memorable is doing it a disservice; It’s going to live rent-free in my brain for years, and I couldn’t be happier.

People have been complaining for years that Hollywood is ‘out of ideas.’ To those people, I say to you now: Put your money where your mouth is. Here is something truly unique, wholly original, and monumentally special. And yet it’s barely made $18 million so far. Morbius has made almost $250 million. You want to know why Hollywood doesn’t take risks on new ideas? This is why. Go see this movie. See it multiple times! I certainly plan to. Tell your friends, tell your family, tell complete strangers! Give love to fresh, innovative cinema. Prove to Hollywood that there’s a reason to make this sort of thing. It’s a genuine moral imperative at this point.

And even if you don’t feel that strongly about film as an art form, Everything, Everywhere, All at Once is just a damn good time at the movies. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll groan and cringe. And I promise you, you’ll leave the theater feeling much better about life, the universe, and, well, everything. And in the world we live in right now, who couldn’t use a little bit of better?

Normally, I’d welcome discourse on a film that I’ve seen and are reviewing. But seriously, if you didn’t like this movie, you have no soul. I can’t help you.

Man, even if Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness is a perfect 10/10, it’ll still be dogshit compared to this movie.

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