EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE shoulders a heavy narrative load with enormous ease. An existential science fiction, family-oriented action-comedy about one woman’s place in the multiverse that’s extremely funny, filled with joy, and soaked with emotion. In this multiverse, the primal forces are love, anger, vulnerability, kindness, chaos, and googly eyes. The film has a lot to say about what it means to be human and the value of each human life examined over a template of endless possibilities and how among all the whirling chaos of life, it’s only through our love of and service to other human beings that our lives truly have meaning. The film does have flashing lights and loud noise, so as Daniel Kwan said on Twitter: Be prepared. Also, crying with a mask sometimes requires that you bring two. And tissues or a handkerchief. I am totally serious about this.
What really makes this amazing film work are the actors’ performances, the story, which both leads you by the brain and pushes you into the mosh pit of the narrative, and the direction. While things may seem chaotic, the purpose of the filmmakers drives the narrative and emotion is the engine that powers the film.
Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert aka The Daniels co-wrote and co-directed the film. It’s a lot. They managed to fit so much into nearly two and a half hours of a film but the film never feels overstuffed. None of the narrative threads get lost in the swirling rapid-fire narrative. They are playing with The Multiverse, so they can play with lives and deaths. There are moments where certain things happen and you’re left for a moment wondering where the film could possibly go and then it proceeds to take off in another direction. Their writing and direction is so effortless that it must have been a lot of hard work to make it look so easy. It feels almost like a musical in some ways, like dance in others. It’s really an amazing accomplishment. The Daniels have such a wonderful understanding of human nature and psychology.
Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings) is outstanding as Evelyn Wang. You can see the disappointment about how her life turned out in her face and feel it emanate from her bones. The anger that makes her snap at her loved ones and ignore their needs comes from her deep sadness. Ke Huy Quan (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, The Goonies) as Waymond Wang is caring and ever hopeful. He is the loving caretaker with sadness of his own, but that never turns on his loved ones. His essential goodness and patience keep him from going to that place. Stephanie Hsu (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”, “The Path”) as Joy Wang is never confused about who she is as a queer woman but is confused about her place in the family. She seeks acceptance only to be constantly rebuffed and as the child of Evelyn and Waymond, she is the combination of the two. The three leads give wonderfully calibrated performances that illuminate their characters’ inner selves. It’s much more than just a surface read and when it comes to it, they give everything. Those are real tears coming down their faces, which is why audiences are moved to tears. I am moved to tears while writing just thinking about it.
James Hong (Big Trouble In Little China, Kung Fu Panda) is the silent disapproving Chinese grandfather who made Evelyn into who she is. His gaze says so much without saying a word. Yes, that is Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween franchise, True Lies) as Deirdre Beaubeirdra. In Deirdre, you can see another type but similar disappointment in a woman. One who finds her identity and purpose in her job after her relationship failed her. It’s a great performance of an ordinary person made with understanding and compassion. All of the character actors who play the many iterations of the characters who populate this and the many different worlds do very good work. They are called to do things that most films would not and they make them realistic so that the jokes land. To make a joke work, the actor has to take the situation seriously no matter how silly or outrageous it is.
EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE is full of dedicated and serious comedic performances about truly silly things and that’s why it is so funny. The comedy is based on emotional truth.
Then there’s the action. The fight sequences are wonderful to behold. You see the standards of film fighting and then the scene will take off into flights of fancy. I can’t explain why without giving spoilers but fights break out for normal reasons and then all hell breaks loose. Chaos is the factor that makes the fighting special and brings new elements into these fighting setups and scenes. It has to do with the often-used idea of The One. The savior who must be found, who often doesn’t know that they are the savior, who has special abilities that have to be tapped into to win the day. You’ve seen the story many times before, but most recently with The Matrix Resurrections, which also played with the idea too. EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE takes it a few steps further with the Multiverse concept. It questions the nature of that savior that we are all waiting for and the cinematic ideal of a savior. But the fighting is powerful, excitingly choreographed, thrilling, and funny.
This film will make you cry unless you are a rock, but it will also make you feel joy. It will make you roar with laughter. It touches your heart and makes you think, but it is so much fun. I think it’s a film that will have a lot of rewatch value. As riveted as I was to the screen, I’m sure I missed some things. I can’t wait to see it again.
The film has three chapters: Everything, Everywhere, and All At Once. The script very cleverly leads you through familiar story beats and then totally goes in different directions, sometimes multiple directions at the same time. The image of the fractured mirror of Evelyn’s face as the many different versions of Evelyn react to what is happening on screen. Mirrors and reflections are where the movie starts and the motif continues throughout the film. Film and art are the mirrors in which we see ourselves.
I do have to say, in reference to that really hideous review of another film earlier this month, that at no point did I feel that just because the film is about a Chinese American family that the story was “niche” or that I couldn’t relate to it. I related to it easily, and so much so that I guffawed and wept copiously throughout the film. For many years, the default for leading characters has been white and male in mainstream cinema. I think that EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE covers how easy it is to relate to someone who isn’t from your gender or your ethnic group and, in fact, points out exactly how relatable the experiences of women and Asian Americans can be and should be to all of us.
Many critics like to bandy the words of Roger Ebert around and a favorite quote used is “Movies are an empathy machine,” which is a sentiment that I totally agree with. I also like what Brandon Cronenberg has to say about his films. He views them as a form of communication. I agree with Cronenberg as well. It is unfortunate that not all critics feel the same. I think that films exist to show you what life is like for other people, often in fantastical and exaggerated circumstances that put the characters to the test. They show you the world through someone else’s eyes. The eyes of someone who may have never existed but that can open your perception up to things that you might never know otherwise. Locking films or any kind of art down to expression that matches your existence is antithetical to cinema and to art itself. When you view the paintings of Frida Kahlo or Vincent Van Gogh or the cinema of Nagisa Ōshima or Nina Menkes, you look at how they see the world and how they see themselves. How tragic and uninspiring it would be to only see yourself reflected back in the cinematic-looking glass.
That’s part of the multifaceted point of EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE. The idea of the Multiverse and that we could exist as individuals in an infinite amount of different worlds opens up endless possibilities. We are the same everywhere but we are also different based on our choices and circumstances, sometimes as tiny as the choice we make to turn right or turn left. We all exist as individuals but as part of a greater whole and everything that we do rings changes in the lives of everyone else. With that simple concept, the filmmakers express the idea of the shared consciousness of humanity and our undeniable kinship, no matter who we are. We are all connected. Regional differences, nationalities, sexual orientation, and ethnicity doesn’t change our basic humanity.
The film uses the microcosm of the family to show that differences like age and familial relationship or sexual orientation within a family may be differences, but we are still family. It is when we are at war with ourselves that we react with violence to others who differ from us. It is when we choose to fear our differences and ignore our similarities and essential bond of humanity that the trouble begins. It is when we stop listening to one another that our love of humanity starts to die and despair creeps into our hearts. It doesn’t mean that divisions like racism, bigotry, or anti-LGBTQ sentiment don’t exist, but it makes the point that they shouldn’t exist because we are all human. It’s anger that makes hatred, bigotry, racism, fear of LGBTQ and the film proposes that communication, kindness, and understanding might be able to stop it.
Everything in the Multiverse is transitory and life can be cruel, but it is through our kindness to others that we make the Multiverse a better place. Everywhere that we go we leave our stamp on the Multiverse through every action and every choice that we make, for good or evil or through apathy. All at once, we can realize that every life we live matters, no matter how humble or boring it might seem to us because our very being can enrich or hurt every other life that we touch and some who never know who we are. It tells us that kindness and vulnerability are not weaknesses or cowardice. It speaks to the great strength of gentleness.
EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE is one of the best films of the year. It’s a brave cinematic mirror of all the banal but critical things that make us and our lives important in an indifferent universe. It’s about how only we can bring meaning and happiness to our short and often sad lives. What we do and what we are matters, even if sometimes despair makes you think that it doesn’t. We all matter and the meaning of life is to live it.
EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE is now available in theaters from A24.