by Sabrina Mei
In many ways, Everything Everywhere All at Once, (directed by duo Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) is the antithesis of what usually makes most A24 movies so special. When that iconic logo flashes across the screen, we expect to be taken on a journey, usually small in scale and slow in pace. Their films often explore the human condition through a character’s mundane life experience–whether it be the last few weeks of an eighth grader’s semester or a child’s brief stay in New York with his lonely uncle. Conversely, Everything Everywhere is unabashedly expansive and moves at the pace of a bullet train. The story spans several realities throughout its complex multiverse, giving you no choice but to buckle in and brace yourself for pending chaos. From bloodied penis nunchucks to IRS trophy butt plugs to cosmically destructive bagels, the film lives up to the maximalist promise in its title.
And yet, what keeps Everything Everywhere grounded within the rest of A24’s catalog is its beating heart–a human tale present beneath the many layers of mind-bending action. Fatigued immigrant mother Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) struggles both financially and emotionally to keep a divided family afloat. In addition to a failing laundry business, she must balance a husband that is considering divorce (Ke Huy Quan), a daughter that resents her (Stephanie Hsu), and a father that is disappointed in her (James Wong). At its core, this is a film about family and connection, about choosing to find pockets of love in the world, even as the black bagel hole of nihilism stares you in the face.
In a recent letter written by the Daniels, the two speak about the inspiration behind their film. They were looking to create “a maximalist's manifesto for surviving in the noise of modern life,” particularly in the wake of the “too-much-ness” that followed “years of increasing political polarization and a global pandemic.” Kwan and Scheinert, despite their feelings of unpreparedness at the time, achieved exactly that: Everything Everywhere allows us space to feel overwhelmed. It recognizes that the hurdles of daily life can sometimes feel like the universe is closing in on you–and all you have is a fanny pack with a single chapstick. Evelyn’s attempt to sort out her business taxes transforms into a deathly showdown with a demonic IRS agent; Gong Gong’s confrontation with the truth of Joy’s sexuality transforms into a battle against cosmic evil incarnate. And yet, within this mundane-turned-multiversal chaos, we still look for connection. Joy and Evelyn still search for one another. The film brings to life the idea that a mother would go to the ends of the earth (or the multiverse) to find her daughter–and vice versa.
From a creative and technical perspective, there is so much to admire in this movie. The editing, led by Paul Rogers, is dizzying when needed, but precise enough to carry the many fight sequences. Everything Everywhere also feels highly experimental, designed to surprise the audience with several tricks stored up its sleeve, as seen in the sudden shift to 2D scribble animation and the final credits scene hoax that actually marks the end of movie-star Evelyn’s film screening. The makeup and costume design is outstanding, particularly for the multiverse villain Jobu Tupaki. Though it is hard to keep track of her infinite, ever-evolving outfits, they are unconditionally eye-catching. Tupaki sports colorful teddy bears stitched onto her sleeves in one scene, and a bejeweled, Elvis-inspired suit in another.
A film like this demands incredible range from its entire cast, and not one member disappointed in their delivery. Ke Huy Quan makes a triumphant return to the big screen after an almost 20-year-long hiatus with his role as the sweetly passive Waymond. After 2019’s Knives Out (Rian Johnson), I have been itching to see Jamie Lee Curtis in another comedy-centric role, and her performance as Deirdre, a relentless IRS agent, is everything I wanted and more. Stephanie Hsu, who had previously worked more on television and Broadway stages, shines in her first major movie role as the defiantly cynical Joy. She embraces the two dimensions of her troubled character with open arms–both the deep-seated anguish of the real Joy, and the unhinged rage of Jobu Tupaki. However, the most memorable performance of the film undeniably belongs to Michelle Yeoh. Having grown accustomed to seeing Yeoh play only elegant and poised characters, it is refreshing to see her embody so much more: grief, humor, bravery, and heart. In an emotional interview with GQ, when asked about her reaction to the Daniels’ script, Yeoh tearily states: “This is something I’ve been waiting for for a long time. That’s going to give me the opportunity to show my fans, my family, my audience, what I’m capable of. To be funny, to be real, to be sad.”
Everything Everywhere is not a perfect movie. But for every step the film takes in the wrong direction, it makes up for it with three steps in the right one. Waymond’s speech following the fight scene in the IRS building, in which he exclaims that “we must be kind,” feels a bit forced and misses its emotional mark. But only a few scenes earlier, Waymond’s love confession to movie-star Evelyn brought me close to tears. The silent rock conversation struck me as low-hanging comedy fruit and dragged on for too long, but the Ratatouille-inspired raccoon storyline had me in stitches. Ultimately, any flaws I can pinpoint pale in comparison to the overwhelming heart and originality that radiate from every frame of this film. Everything Everywhere is the kind of movie that makes people fall in love with movies. The kind that is so bizarre, so excruciatingly authentic, so clearly loved by everyone involved, that I almost can’t believe it was made–but I am so, very happy it is here.
Sabrina Mei is a freshman in the MSB and is undeclared.