‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ review: The Daniels return with an off-the-wall multiverse where Michelle Yeoh delivers her best work to date [Grade: B+] | SXSW
Life is full of difficult choices that define who we are and what our future will be. Once they are made, there is no going back, as a person’s story is set in stone, thus forging a road they must travel. But what if you could change it, make a slight enhancement, see something within yourself you never knew was there? Would you do it, no matter the cost? This is a fundamental question laid at the feet of the audience by the wild mastermind directors known as the Daniels (Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert) in their latest multidimensional thrill ride, Everything Everywhere All at Once.
Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) is a highly stressed laundromat owner who we find collecting all of her business receipts and paperwork to present to the IRS for her audit. She runs the business with her husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), who found the place as a way for them to make a living once they immigrated to the United States after they fell in love in their home country of China when they were younger. Things aren’t looking too good, as everything around them at the establishment seems to be falling apart, including the passion within their marriage. As they prepare for their meeting with the IRS, they are planning a Chinese New Year party at the same time, where Evelyn’s father, Gong Gong (James Hong), will be joining. With all of these events going on, Evelyn is becoming more and more stressed by the moment, and this is before her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) shows up, wanting to bring her new girlfriend to the New Year’s festivities, knowing full well that Evelyn’s father won’t approve.
Evelyn lives in a constant state of fear and anxiety, trying to do the safest thing to get her to move to the next step in her life. Instead of allowing Joy to bring her girlfriend, confront her father, she tells him that Joy might be bringing a friend, thus setting her daughter off, and when she tries to talk to Joy about it, she makes an even bigger mess of things. It’s not long after this when she has to go to IRS building with Waymond and Gong Gong, where inspector Deirdre Beaubeirdra (Jamie Lee Curtis) is about to drop the hammer on the Wangs and take their business from them if all the numbers don’t add up. But right as they get into the elevator to go to their meeting, Waymond changes, no longer the innocent companion Evelyn married, but rather a confident, energetic version from another timeline, plugged into her version of her husband looking to speak to her. He reveals himself as Alpha Waymond, from the Alpha Universe, which is the location of vast knowledge of the multiverse in which someone, with the right amount of understanding and practice, can jump from version to version of yourself, and consume the best qualities or skills and bringing them into what you deem to be your reality. His mission is to recruit Evelyn to join him in a mission to save the multiverse from evil forces that have created all the uncertainty and change within the fabric of time that has caused unrest by all with these abilities and led to an all-out war.
These are the basics you will need to jump head first into the Daniels latest sci-fi adventure. But once you get into the fabric of this multiverse world they’ve created, you see the influences of the past shaping something wholly original and bonkers in this concoction. Mixing in references to The Matrix, Kill Bill, In the Mood for Love, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, an assortment of Pixar titles, and a variety of Hong Kong action films, the Daniels blue print is that of mad scientists throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the screen and seeing what sticks, and while it is a lot to process on one viewing, it blends perfectly together to make something bold yet tender. Working together for almost ten years now, they are the best director duo working today, with this and 2016’s Swiss Army Man proving they are a force to be reckoned with if given the resources to craft their ambitious visions to its entirety.
With loads of actions sequences and time line jumping, the spectacle could be overwhelming. But what balances Everything Everywhere All at Once is the core family story between Evelyn, Waymond, Gong Gong, and most importantly, Joy. While she gains the strength and courage to open her mind to more than just the ordinary of her mundane life, Evelyn evolves, understanding that it is okay to embrace change, speak your mind, and show unconditional love to those around her seeking it. In opening her mind and heart, the dangers her loved ones and those around her face disappear, making their lives better. Simple in message, risky yet rewarding in its execution, the Daniels show us that if we allow ourselves to be moldable, our society can become the best version of themselves.
In a career filled with fantastic performances, Yeoh delivers her best work yet, giving each iteration of Evelyn just enough agency and nuance for each to stand out on their own yet feel cohesive as one mind and soul traveling through the timeline. Not to be overshadowed by Yeoh, but Stephanie Hsu, in a role destined to make her a star, and Ke Huy Quan, in his first role in twenty years, add flair and heart that make Evelyn’s full journey as exiting and engaging as it is. Hong, Lee Curtis are joined by Jenny Slate and Harry Shum Jr. in the supporting cast and give hilarious, scene stealing moments that round out the main trio to deliver at dynamite ensemble.
With Everything Everywhere All at Once, the Daniels infuse outrageous humor, pulse pounding action at the center of a warm family drama wrapped within a dream universe that only they could pull off. Mixed within every impossible, crazy idea they came up with comes with a glimmer of hope for the human race. If one person had the ability to change the world, or their life, they would do it, but not to gain fame or talents beyond their imagination, but to find peace, acceptance and growth, the most important values missing from our modern world.
This review is from the SXSW Film Festival. A24 will release Everything Everywhere All at Once only in theaters on March 25, 2022.