When I left the screening of the new film “Everything Everywhere All at Once”, I held two truths to be self-evident.
One was that Michelle Yeoh will always be an absolute a legend as an actress and Martial Artist. Every film she graces elevates the experience. To have her starring in a major wide release in America in 2022 is absolute heaven.
The second is that “The Daniels” (directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) have created one of the most entertaining films in years.
Michelle Yeoh could give her best performance yet (and she has many) as Evelyn Wang, the overworked owner of a laundromat who finds herself living a life colored with disappointments.
Her marriage to Waymond (Ke Huy Kwan, making a triumphant return to major acting) is at a standstill. The passion has gone, as has Evelyn’s ability to be happy co-running the laundromat they built together way back when, in a time they were both young and hopeful and in love.
Their business is under audit by Deirdre, a viciously unforgiving I.R.S. worker played with gusto by an all-in Jamie Lee Curtis.
The couple’s daughter Joy (a wonderful Stephanie Hsu) is in a lesbian relationship, which adds stress. as Evelyn’s visiting father Gong Gong (the always great James Hong) is old world Chinese in his beliefs and she is nervous to be honest about his granddaughter’s sexuality.
As Evelyn becomes overwhelmed to the point of losing it all, a different and more assertive version of her husband comes calling from the “Alpha verse”, a place in time where some people have learned to “verse jump”. Waymond warns his wife of the multi universe threat known as Jobu Tupaki, who is set to destroy all things, as she believes “nothing matters”.
So begins the wildest universe-bending experience audiences have witnessed in a long time.
The new craze of the “multiverse” is the thing to do in modern comic book films. Sadly, the possibilities stop at merely throwing beloved characters into situations to make the fans cheer with delight.
It is not the intent of the filmmakers to parody the multiverse trend. While they certainly have fun with the absurdity of it all (hot dogs for fingers, awards that resemble butt plugs, hilariously ludicrous acts to achieve a verse jump, and a bagel holding the key to everything), the directors use it more than mere gimmick.
The Daniels make their multiverses count. As Evelyn travels furiously through her many alternate lives (what could’ve been, what should’ve been, and what will be), their screenplay gives balance to the wild excess and deeper method to the madness.
The action sequences are inventive and always entertaining. The big moments mostly take place in the I.R.S. office building that becomes a battleground where Evelyn and Waymond battle security guards, alternate universe baddies, and eventually villainess Jobu Topaki herself. For all the CGI sloppiness in today’s Action films, The Daniels put most others to shame. The battles inside the office building are more exciting (both aurally and visually) than anything found in the film worlds of Marvel and DC.
The stunt team has a field day in these moments, as the directors pay homage to Kung-Fu cinema through exciting and inventive fight choreography while Yeoh works the Kung-Fu skills she has possessed for so many years.
Editor Paul Rogers works his magic in these moments and the film entire. As the script and its dialogue fly like rapid fire bullets, Rogers matches the filmmakers’ kinetic style, but he and his directors never cause the audience to get lost. A lot is coming at us (remember that title!) and it all flows seamlessly.
While the entire piece bleeds “wow” factor, the film is a pure visual delight. Cinematographer Larkin Seiple paints stunning pictures.
Evelyn goes from the drudgery of her current life to the beauty of an opera house to the glamour of a Hollywood premiere to the off-color aura of a Seventies Martial Arts picture.
The multiple universes are designed through different lenses, allowing the film to relish in its cornucopia of wild cinematic optics.
As Evelyn questions her true feelings about life and love and, well, everything all at once, the screenplay smartly taps into Buddhist philosophies regarding our heroine’s fate.
Buddhism and Hinduism teach us that nothing lasts, and everything is in constant state of change. While the world around her is a frenzied barrage of information and ever-growing technologies, Evelyn learns to navigate this doctrine as it applies to her life, achieving a deeper understanding of her family and herself. It is here where the picture finds it’s emotional center and becomes something quite beautiful.
I want so much to describe many of the film’s best moments but that would be unfair. This work is a complete experience in the best way. An audience should go in knowing only what trailers showed you. Like a first time on a great amusement park ride, the actual experience is more than one can imagine.
We are currently stuck in the doldrums of modern cinema. These days, few films have originality, spark, or courage. The Daniels move to the front of the class with this bold, imaginative, and richly impassioned work.
“Everything Everywhere All at Once” is the kind of well thought out entertainment that modern cinema so desperately needs right now.
I smiled and laughed. It filled me with excitement and joy. Ultimately, I was moved.
This is one uniquely entertaining cinematic treasure.
Everything Everywhere All at Once
Written and Directed by Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinert
Starring Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Kwan, Stephanie Hsu, James Hong, Jamie Lee Curtis
R, 139 Minutes, A24/AGBO/Ley Line Entertainment