Its only April and the best film of the year has already come out. That film is Everything Everywhere All at Once. Maybe I should hold off on that assessment until after Robert Eggers’ The Northman comes out in a couple weeks. Mouthful of a title aside, the film, directed by the enigmatic duo collectively known as Daniels (Daniel Kwam & Daniel Scheinert) delivers on the ambitiously mind-bending acid trip that will linger in your sub-conscious and will have you second guessing every life choice made from here on out after witnessing this masterpiece of storytelling. I still don’t know if what I watched was real or not – Whatever it is, it’s unlike any other theater going experience I’ve had. And it will sure to be one that I will never forget.
Yet fans complain that Hollywood is only concerned about making sequels, reboots, and comic book movies. Daniels might take Umbridge with that statement as well as hordes of other movie-goers.
If only life were like an everything bagel – a little bit of every flavor, full of possibilities with every bite. You never know what you’re going to get. It’s the perfect choice of carbs for a bacon egg and cheese sandwich (at least that’s this New Yorkers preference), so why can’t we have our bagel and eat it too? It’s all about the appeal, just the right amount of balance of toppings for any tastebuds preference.
Reading about Everything Everywhere All at Once and experiencing it firsthand is another thing entirely. For nearly two and a half hours, Daniels invites us to trust them on an intimate journey that is essentially a shock to the system. Goose bumps and spine-tingling sensations for 139 fantastical minutes. Think of an ice bath, skydiving and bungee jumping – mentally preparing the 5 senses to accept the fate you’re willingly putting your body through and taking the plunge. And you’ll be glad you did – the exhilaration of stepping out of your comfort zone, trying something new, choosing the right path instead of the left is what the writing and directing duo set out to accomplish and made it look effortless in the process.
Daniel’s story centers around the Wang family – Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) and her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) who own and operate a laundromat while simultaneously preparing for an audit by the IRS and putting together a community event. They have a daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) who doesn’t fit in with the traditionalist mindset that Evelyn envisioned for her daughter while struggling to hold onto a relationship that needs distance to survive.
Immediately, a frenzy of multitasking sets the mood in the claustrophobic living space the Wang’s reside in. Evelyn is prepping tax forms, stacking receipts, making rice, and keeping a watchful eye the security cameras while Waymond oversees the noodles and trying to get his wife’s focus for one moment to hand her more forms of paper that will further strain their already paper-thin relationship. All while customers are down in the laundromat complaining about their money getting eaten by the machine and picking up their clean clothes. Fast paced isn’t enough, the Wang’s, mostly Evelyn move at ludicrous speed. On top of all that, Joy is desperate to introduce her girlfriend Becky (Tallie Medel) and Evelyn’s father Gong Gong (James Hong) just visited from China.
What more can be put on their heavily burdened shoulders? Leave that to Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis) the IRS inspector auditing the Wang family.
While the Wang family is being introduced, simultaneously, the multiverse aspect that serves as the main narrative is being set up. The opening shot is of a mirror that changes scenery implying the different universes’s Evelyn’s that will soon come to be explored. That and on the security camera a different version of Waymond filtering in and out. Was the different Waymond from the Alpha universe the one that brought the googily eyes?
Turns out, if done correctly, a multiverse angle can work with limitless possibilities of parallel worlds that characters can reside in. Maybe it’s the comedic genius of producers Joe and Anthony Russo (Community, Arrested Development) who gave the idea of some of these universes but each one is bizarre and more absurd than the last one. How the parallel universes come about is based on every choice and decision made by Evelyn. One universe she doesn’t marry Waymond, the next she survives a mugging and becomes a master of kung-fu. In another one – apes with hot dog fingers defeat apes with normal appendages thus evolution caused humans to have hot dog fingers full of ketchup and mustard.
One mention of Ratatouille mistakenly pronounced Raccacoonie, and a hibachi chef is being controlled by a racoon instead of a rat. See, absurd, outrageous but side-splittingly laugh-out-loud funny. Picture the screenplay evolving in real time – one sentence of this world’s existence and its as if it existed the entire time. Talk about being self-aware.
Everything Everywhere All at Once doesn’t work nearly as profoundly without Michelle Yeoh’s brilliantly uncomfortable performance. She’s the backbone of this strange yet satisfying story and able to channel every emotion from rage to sincerity and everything in between with a single look and line of dialogue. For 139 minutes she leaves a lasting impression that spans generations and cultural expectations. Even channeling her iconic Crouching Tiger days without missing a step. After all, Everything Everywhere isn’t just an overt attack on the senses, it’s a story about family done so with imagination that can destroy our everyday perception of life and how it’s supposed to be.
What one cultural norm worked for one generation won’t necessarily work for the next or the one after that. Society evolves daily and how we view the world around us changes just as fast. Evolution is inevitable, change happens and with that, acceptance. Joy represents a new age of independence and not living up to the standards of the past. Something Evelyn can’t stop is watching her daughter make choices that fractures their relationship and everything that happened with her and Gong Gong. It’s when we let go that those relationships can mend and a new normal can be established. Daniels doesn’t limit their story to only one culture either, it doesn’t discriminate or isolate – we can all relate to Evelyn and Waymond and Evelyn and Joy. We must be willing to open our minds to new ideas. Then and only then can true growth happen.
With humor, self-awareness and heart leading the charge, It’s the eye-catching attention to detail, production design by Jason Kisvarday and costume design by Shirley Kurata that will keep your eyes preoccupied during the bizarre ride while your brain contemplates every decision made that you could remember. Eye popping and aesthetically pleasing costumes dazzle on screen – Stephanie Hsu is a multiverse princess, Ke Huy Quan finds more ways to kill a person with a fanny pack, James Hong is technically a transformer while Jamie Lee Curtis is having a blast with a bob and turf bangs. Who said serious movies weren’t fun? Starting out at a 100, Daniels crank’s up the action with glorious choreography and absolute carnage fight sequences. Picking your jaw up from the floor will be tough to do since it will be stuck there the entirety of this sci-fi masterpiece.
Written By: Daniels (Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert)
Directed By: Daniels (Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert)
Music By: Son Lux
Cinematography: Larkin Seiple
Starring: Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsu, Jenny Slate, Harry Shum Jr., James Hong, Jamie Lee Curtis
Release Date: March 25, 2022 (Limited), April 8, 2022 (Wide)
Running Time: 2 Hours 26 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
My Score: 5 out of 5