If I had a single word to describe the 2022 film, “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” by filmmakers/writers Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, it would be overwhelming. Everything/Everywhere in the movie is a cascade of often conflicting ideas. Don’t be put off: this is a deliberate artistic choice, pointing to a rich trend in filmmaking.
The story follows the excellent Michelle Yeoh as Evelyn, a middle-aged first-generation immigrant from China, who strives to keep her failing laundromat and failing relationships afloat. Soon the film becomes a ridiculous adventure to defeat an all-consuming evil force.
Evelyn is frantically trying to balance a multitude of problems, both personal and professional. The opening scene of the movie is edited quickly, with Evelyn constantly in motion, working and trying to confront each issue simultaneously. All this leaves Evelyn and the audience exhausted and overwhelmed, and soon the film veers into a high-concept science fiction action adventure. Seat belts advised!
In the past couple years, popular culture has started to play with the idea of the “multiverse,” the idea that multiple unique universes run parallel to our own – some dramatically different from our own, and some almost identical. As this concept gains popularity (most notably in its use in the current stage of the Marvel Cinematic Universe), Everything/Everywhere comes along to demonstrate the full storytelling potential of such a big idea.
The movie jumps frequently between multiple universes, each telling a different story starring the same characters. A single scene can have the moody ambience and subtle conversation of a typical drama in the vein of Wong Kar-Wai’s “In the Mood for Love,” then rapidly morphing to a goofy absurdist comedy reminiscent of Stephen Chow’s “Kung Fu Hustle.”
However, beyond enabling stellar choreography and unexpected jokes, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” has one more card up its sleeve — a heart-wrenching family drama. The film sets up four core relationships for our heroine: with her father, her husband, her daughter, and most importantly, herself. In each of the concurrent stories set up by the “multiverse” premise, Evelyn sees herself achieve her wildest dreams, sees how each of these relationships change and morph, how each world contrasts with the next.
The imperfect Evelyn presents several reasons to dislike her. She is dismissive and rude to the people in her life, even telling her kindhearted husband that she wishes she had never agreed to marry him and blaming him for her unhappiness. The result is a multilayered, complex character study. The film contrasts each version of Evelyn, each version of her relationships, as she and the audience are simultaneously forced to confront the jumble that she is.
This leads to the sequential climaxes that run through the gamut of powerful emotions such as sadness, longing, and love. The frenetic pace refuses to let up, with some of the most spectacular visuals, funniest jokes, jaw-dropping choreography, and genuinely moving moments all happening in a rush. Oddly, the result is one of the most powerful endings to a movie I have ever experienced.
“Everything Everywhere All at Once” left me blown away by the quality of action and humor on display, not to mention the visual and auditory presentation and the philosophical musings at its core. Go see it!