Everything Everywhere All at Once
Strange. Silly. Quirky. Ambitious. Smart. Thoughtful. These are all attributes that should be valued in a movie. They promise something different and surprising. In this case, they specifically describe the sci-fi action/comedy Everything Everywhere All at Once (133 minutes, without the end credits). The initial concept feels like someone saw the newest Spiderman and decided it would be funny to take the multiverse idea and apply it to the mundane, like a woman struggling to finish her taxes. However, in the hands of Daniels (the name given to the writing/directing duo of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert), what is at stake in this story is far from mundane. It is about nothing less than the joy to be found in an ordinary life. Here is another word to describe it: delightful.
Evelyn is a woman who never finds the time to enjoy what she has. She runs a laundromat with a husband who exasperates her, has a daughter who tires of her criticism and takes care of her father who does not appreciate her. As the story begins, she is extremely stressed about filing her taxes. Then, during a trip to the IRS, her husband suddenly changes personalities, telling her that she is the only one who can save the multiverse from a great evil. That is merely the start of this crazy adventure.
The laughs and the emotion come from the unexpected twists in the plot. Daniels aren’t shy about throwing in whatever they can think of. Slapstick and vulgarity sit right next to genuine feeling and philosophical musings. There is world-building, but they don’t dwell on it. This is closer to a character study showing a woman grappling with her new fantastical reality. The genre elements are a big part of this, yet they are in service of the story, as opposed to being the point of the story. They begin with some familiar ideas and assemble them in a totally fresh way. The Daniels first movie was Swiss Army Man, the tale of a depressed man on a deserted island who becomes friends with a magical farting corpse. These guys certainly don’t do the same thing as everyone else.
The humor runs the gamut from puns to the physical to the profane. Somehow, it all works with the tone. Since there are seemingly an infinite number of realities, basically anything can happen. That means it isn’t out of place when anything does. A lot of the gags come from the story’s rules for traveling between dimensions and Evelyn’s reaction to the absurdity around her.
Michelle Yeoh is excellent as Evelyn, in large part because she plays it straight. This is not an adventure for Evelyn. At the beginning, it is just something inexplicable interrupting her attempts to finish her taxes. Then, it becomes about keeping her family together. She is Neo in The Matrix, but much subtler and way more confused.
The entire cast is good, the pacing is good, the writing is hilarious, exciting and even touching. It is like a summer blockbuster made on a human scale, with action scenes, broad comedy and complex plotting on one side and big ideas that it actually engages with, such as what happiness is or the importance of an individual existence, on the other. The concept of Everything Everywhere All at Once may sound overly cutesy and too hard to pull off in a way that is both really funny and taken seriously. The Daniels got it done. This is tremendously entertaining.
4½ out of 5
Michelle Yeoh as Evelyn Wang
Stephanie Hsu as Joy Wang
Ke Huy Quan as Waymond Wang
James Hong as Gong Gong
Jamie Lee Curtis as Deirdre Beaubeirdra
Written and Directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert