Everything Everywhere All at Once will warm your heart and break your brain

Multiverses. Hot dog fingers. In this movie, it’s all relative.
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Everything Everywhere All at Once. // Courtesy of A24

Every year, dozens of films attempt to tell us what it means to be human. Most of them either fall into self-seriousness or mistake meandering for genuine insight. For so seemingly universal a topic, it’s difficult for many filmmakers to get right. 

If the sublimely trippy Everything Everywhere All at Once is any indication, maybe it just took the mad genius minds of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (known together as Daniels)—a pair best known for making Swiss Army Man, a transcendent film about a farting corpse—to crack the code. 

Attempting to summarize this film is a fool’s errand, partly since it works best if you go in blind, and partly because the movie excels at sensory overload that’s hard to describe. At any moment, 50,000 things whiz by in a blur. Dizzying as that may be, it’s the humanity underneath the jaw-dropping visuals that makes the whole thing worthwhile. 

Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), a Chinese immigrant and laundromat owner, is living her life on auto-pilot. Her put-upon daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu), wants her mother to acknowledge her girlfriend.

Her dutiful-but-timid husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), can barely bring himself to interrupt his busy wife long enough to have the most important conversation of their lives. Her father (James Hong) is coming to visit. On top of all this, Evelyn is facing down a tax auditor (Jamie Lee Curtis) bent on making her life even harder than it already is. 

In the middle of Evelyn’s very busy day, mild-mannered Waymond shares an important message: Evelyn holds the key to saving the multiverse from a malevolent being called Jobu Tapaki.

Armed with a state-of-the-art headset, Evelyn can tap into a limitless number of universes where unexpected talents are just within reach. There’s Cook Evelyn. Martial Arts Expert Evelyn. Sign twirler Evelyn. Celebrity Evelyn. 

In each universe, Evelyn witnesses versions of herself living lives more fulfilling than her own. Any time she acquires a new ability, she’s stronger than before, but starts to lose sight of those she’s supposed to be protecting.

As intensely stimulating as Everything Everywhere All at Once becomes, directors Kwan and Scheinert keep things easy to follow, even as they literally hurl Evelyn through multiple universes.

None of the film’s high-minded concepts would work as well as they do without its cast.

Yeoh is at her best in a role that showcases her many talents in a way that’s been elusive for most of her Hollywood career. Hsu holds her own with Yeoh and makes every interaction a delight, slowly building a nuanced, emotionally realistic mother-daughter relationship. 

The two women are the emotional core of the film, but its secret weapon is Quan, the former child star of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Goonies. Yeoh travels through dimensions as the same Evelyn in new surroundings, but Quan is always a different version of himself, sometimes subtly so—other times more obvious.

Regardless of the setting, Quan imbues Waymond with compassion and kindness. He can also kick serious ass when necessary.

Every disparate element of Everything Everywhere All at Once is done with meticulous (and some could argue malicious) forethought. The zany events on display aren’t just window dressing. Kwan and Scheinert, true to their style, create a world and a worldview that sneaks in surprising emotional heft.

Nowhere else will you find a beautiful homage to the films of Wong Kar Wai followed up with an extended Ratatouille gag.

In anyone else’s hands, Everything Everywhere All at Once would be a total mess.

In the imaginative hands of Kwan and Scheinert, fortunately, it’s a stunning triumph of filmmaking that addresses the emotional complexity of being human—whether as a Hong Kong film star, an overworked laundromat owner, or a person with hot dogs for fingers (yes, really).

It’s a lot, but it may end up being one of the best things you’ll ever see.

Categories: Movies