Death, taxes, and laundry are the only guarantees in life for Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) before we join her on one of the most unexpected journeys this side of Tolkien. Everything Everywhere All At Once is a one-of-a-kind film that represents almost every genre of film and ends up being equal parts funny, heartfelt, and action-packed. The Daniels—Directors Dan Quan and Daniel Scheinert (Swiss Army Man)—don’t just embrace the weird, they seek it out. While Swiss Army Man is for a very specific audience, Everything Everywhere All At Once is the first legit Best Picture candidate of 2022.
The market for nostalgia is currently raging, so the concept of a multiverse has suddenly become a household term. Big tentpole films such as Spiderman: No Way Home and next year’s The Flash have used this to bring back returning versions of fan favorite characters to appear alongside their modern incarnations. Even the upcoming Doctor Strange sequel is titled In the Multiverse of Madness.
Everything Everywhere All At Once also uses the multiverse to bring about some nostalgia for the daring, no holds barred filmmaking that has been lacking in this new Pandemic Era of movies. That’s not meant to be a shot at some of the technical difficulties that have been presented and the tricks being developed to work around them; the issue that has arisen is a lack of true three act films. It seems the new formula is for movies to have a beginning and an end while cutting out the middle. This may save 30-45 minutes of screen time and allow for a lower production cost, but it annoyed me as a kid with The Lion King and as an adult with Venom: Let There Be Carnage, the sentiment was the same. Thankfully, Everything Everywhere All At Once is broken into 3 distinct chapters (Everything, Everywhere, and All at Once) and doesn’t cut corners in its pacing or delivery.
The plot to Everything Everywhere All a=At Once is a bit simple in showing us a family that is foreign in origin but familiar in structure, values, and drama. It is also intricate in showing us a world in which those in the know can traverse through infinite versions of themselves, absorbing all the memories and skills of the alternate versions, albeit with a varying range of potential consequences to the user.
We pick up with Evelyn preparing for both an IRS audit and a party for her father (the eternal James Hong: Big Trouble in Little China) while also juggling a growing resentment from her daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), and her desperate for attention husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan: The Goonies). While trying to concentrate on the meeting with a hard-nosed IRS agent (Jamie Lee Curtis: Halloween), Evelyn is visited by an alternate version of her husband who is insistent she is the best version of Evelyn to save every version of the multiverse from an all-consuming threat. The ride that ensues has Evelyn trying to balance learning the rules of this whole new world and fighting for her lives with trying to get those taxes paid.
It would be easy for Everything Everywhere All At Once to stumble under the weight of defining the world and laying out all the rules both Evelyn and the audience are in desperate need of. Instead, we are instantly sold on Evelyn and her core family to the point that we are willing to go through this with her without needing to try and guess ahead.
The performances across the board are stellar, led by Yeoh, who commands the screen with equal parts grace and force. Quan plays Waymond with an earnest optimism that you cannot help but be enamored with. Hsu is a bit of a breakout connecting on both some over-the-top funny and highly emotional moments, while big screen veterans Jamie Lee Curtis and James Hong are both obviously having a blast with their occasionally downtrodden, occasionally over-the-top characters. The cast is necessary to keep us grounded as we are thrust into the vastness of infinite realities which could otherwise isolate the viewers. We believe the anxiety of immigrants struggling in a system that can quickly turn on you. We believe the disappointment that can come from reflecting on your life choices. We can really believe that the IRS can be an insufferable pain in the ass. But most importantly, we can believe in love as a driving, conquering force when faced with the unknown. None of that belief would be possible if we didn’t believe in the characters.
You can feel the confidence in the direction of The Daniels, steadying a ship that could very easily be off course with a few bad cuts or edits. The jumps in time and setting are handled flawlessly with distinct visual triggers that let us know which reality we’re sliding into without having to explicitly point it out. The action sequences are choreographed beautifully with enough impact that I’d love to see them handle one of the odder comic book characters such as Hellboy or Constantine. Their visual flare plus ability to world build would lend itself perfectly to the comic genre, but only if they’re in control as I don’t see them working well in an MCU-type construct.
From hot dog fingers and raccoon hibachi chefs to paying taxes and finding out whether to come out to your conservative grandfather, the movie title actually, perfectly, describes what’s packed in here. There will be mixed complaints about the 140-minute runtime, though I’m not quite sure how this all comes together if we don’t get a chance to dig in deep with these characters. Plus, do we really need less of a good thing? In a world clamoring for originality at the movies, this is what you’ve been asking for, so get your ass out there and see it! Everything Everywhere All At Once is both a great film and a great showcase of individual talent, meticulously blended into one of the best theatrical experiences in recent memory.