Arts movie review

“Everything Everywhere All At Once” is breathtaking

A true story in at least one universe

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Michelle Yeoh is Evelyn Wang in ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once.’
Courtesy of A24

Everything Everywhere All At Once
Directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
Screenplay by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
Starring Michelle Yeoh, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ke Huy Quan, and Stephanie Hsu
Rated R, Now Playing

The multiverse is a concept in physics that forms the basis of many recent sci-fi movies. Yet dynamic directing duo Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, collectively known as Daniels, has found a way to provide a fresh take on the multiverse in action sci-fi comedy drama Everything Everywhere All at Once. If that sounds like a lot, it’s because it is.

While following the traditional three-act structure, the film’s hero arc literally disintegrates, as each act is a chaos-inducing ride through an infinite number of universes that takes us closer and closer to insanity. Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh), a middle-aged Chinese immigrant woman, has no shortage of challenges in her life. She is focused on achieving perfection in her cooking, managing her laundromat, organizing a Chinese New Year’s party, accepting her daughter Joy’s relationship (Stephanie Hsu) with her girlfriend Becky (Tallie Medel), and pleasing her father (James Hong) who has arrived to visit for the first time after Evelyn ran away with her husband (Ke Huy Quan) — a husband who is now filing for divorce. And of course, her biggest challenge yet: taxes and the IRS auditor (Jamie Lee Curtis) hell-bent on finding some sort of mistake with her near-perfect work. This is act one.

The film itself follows a hero arc and has all the characteristics of your typical hero-saves-the-day movie, but it also has so much more. The first act of the movie is set in normalcy and presents enough challenges for Evelyn as is. However, her mundane life spirals when her husband Waymond suddenly transforms into a kick-butt, universe-jumping commando sent to protect Evelyn with his deadly fanny pack. He explains to our hero that she is destined for more than taxes: she is the one that must defeat multiverse enemy Jobu Tobaki by acquiring skills from all the Evelyns in alternate universes, products of all the choices she could have made.

The second half of the movie becomes a sensory overload as we travel with Evelyn through an infinite range of possibilities. Mayhem fills the screen as Evelyn is transported to worlds in which she has hot dog hands or is alternatively a pop star who never married Waymond, the rat from Ratatouille, or a rock on the edge of a cliff.

There is no impossible — only possibilities. Any choice that one could have made becomes a universe that exists. Chaos is order and change is the only constant as deafening sound design and swirling visual spectacles take center stage. Beyond showcasing the film’s cinematography, these elaborate scenes also speak to the immigrant experience. “The immigrant story is so much about what-if and wondering what could have happened. What if I stayed? What if I went anywhere else?” says Kwan at a college roundtable interview in Boston. The existence of the multiverse places a heavy weight on the choices we make, altering our path forever. It makes Evelyn wonder what would have happened if she didn’t choose Waymond, if her daughter worked harder, or if she hadn’t bought a laundromat. These choices paralyze her as her life degenerates into infinite bits.

The movie is messy, chaotic, and tackles so much. But perhaps that’s the point. Life, with or without universe jumping, is inherently messy. As Kwan says, “One of the hardest things you can do is just pay attention to someone. Turning that experience into something cosmic and spiritual felt important. … I can see that everyday moments are a transcendent experience.”

Peeking through the layers of action-packed martial arts scenes are themes of love, empathy, and kindness. Evelyn is not only our martial arts hero but also a mother to Joy, and must navigate her daughter’s sexuality and teenage angst. The Daniels hope that the movie can spark healing and open conversation with older generations. As Scheinert said, “This movie is a stepping stone in our four-dimensional relationship with our parents, and hopefully it can be that way with other people too.” They hope that the film can become a stepping stone to spark conversation and build connections with those around us.

Michelle Yeoh portrays Evelyn in a beautiful way, capturing the many layers of her strength, surety, confusion, self-doubt, love, and desire for perfection that we see in immigrant parents. Her portrayal is accompanied by Jamie Lee Curtis’s hilariously accurate portrayal of a tax auditor in the both comical and infuriating way we view them.

The film is an attack on the senses and a collage of visual stimulation. It’ll have you on the edge of your seat laughing and crying. The complex yet dazzling montage of shots takes the audience to the edge of the multiverse and back, all the while reminding us to be kind and to love with our whole hearts. Everything Everywhere All at Once is precisely that. Everything. Everywhere. All at once.