If you keep up with the release radar, you’ll know this was my Editor’s Pick for the final release weekend in March of 2022 but, even if you don’t, you most likely heard about the buzz surrounding this movie. The creativity is off the charts, the performances are excellent, and the execution is superb. No hyperbole, Everything Everywhere All At Once is one of the most incredible films I have ever seen and might just be one of the very best films ever made.
With her laundromat teetering on the brink of financial collapse, an unhappy marriage on the rocks, a disapproving elderly father, and a tumultuous mother-daughter relationship on top of it all, a Chinese immigrant is unexpectedly pulled into the center of a battle for the very fabric of reality across the multiverses.
When you layout the general plot outline, this film could have been a colossal swing-and-miss. Rectifying the necessary components of everything this idea entails in a way that works fluidly, let alone, excels in all the key areas, is no small order. Fortunately, the visionary directing duo known as Daniels was well-equipped to pull it off.
I thoroughly enjoyed their 2016 feature debut, Swiss Army Man, very much because of their creativity and the layers of heart and emotion beneath its gaseous surface (you can check out my review for that film here. It was relegated to “the farting corpse” movie but it’s a lot more than that too. There’s a reason they won the Directing Award at Sundance back in 2016 for that film and it actually laid the groundwork for this new film to get made with Joe and Anthony Russo signed on as producers. Anyway, I was excited to see what their follow-up collaboration was going to be and I was still blown away.
Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert are cinematic mad scientists and I mean that as the highest form complement. The experience of watching Everything Everywhere All At Once is as fulfilling of an experience as I have ever had with a film. I can’t do it justice but whatever you think the movie is, I promise you it’s more. It somehow integrates a well-researched and rich history of kung-fu cinema with a very real and down-to-earth multicultural family drama, throws in some ridiculously funny off-the-wall moments and graphic humor, and rolls it all up in an existential crisis that spans a multitude of realities. What more could you ask for? Romance? Oh yeah, wait, it’s got that too and it’ll tug at your heartstrings.
It must have been absolutely wild to sit down at the planning stage and try to work this all out but that’s a testament to Daniels’ vision. It’s one thing to nail down the concept and plan out how to execute it, but it’s another thing to get all the finer details of the tapestry just right. However, the screenplay is fantastic. While the film bounces around the “many-verse” (I think they call it) it also touches on some mostly universal human experiences across a broad spectrum. At its core, this is a story of ambition, regret, hope, and catharsis. By opening the door to all those different realities, Daniels was able to extract an incredible amount of character depth for all their primary roles.
I am so very happy for Michelle Yeoh to not only get this platform but absolutely hit it out of the park in the lead role. She made her name off her physicality, but it’s been a while since I have seen her flex the full force of her comedic range and, my goodness, she is brilliant. No matter where the film goes she is adept at handling the tone with surgical control. I can’t say enough nice things about her and her performance and I hope it doesn’t get pushed aside later in the year. I read that the role was originally written for Jackie Chan but it didn’t work out and, as much as I love Jackie Chan, we should all count ourselves lucky for having her. I hope to see her get more roles that test her range moving forward.
Yeoh was spectacular, but it wasn’t just her either. Ke Huy Quan, best known for The Goonies and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, was magnificent as well. When thinking of how Jackie Chan might have been involved in the film, his character comes to mind because the kung fu style is very much of that ilk and Quan is a big fan of Chan’s. The comedic chops and charm from his iconic roles are still there in ample supply and the ability (for both him and Yeoh) to switch tones on a dime and do it so fluidly is just insanely impressive. One minute you’ll be laughing and, in the next, you’ll be feeling all the uncomfortable corners of their nuptial instability and, in the next, you’ll be mesmerized by their choreography. There is always a lot going on, but these performances are downright amazing and require a very diverse skill set to pull off. I’m still astonished thinking back on it.
Stephanie Hsu really good as well and clearly has a lot of fun getting to play around with so many different outfits and looks. While she is very entertaining in that space, it’s navigating the rocky waters of the mother-daughter relationship she has with Yeoh’s character. As much as the film is about multiple universes, it’s very much a story about family, and their relationship is right there at the center of it. That relationship dynamic has very specific connotations both within the context of the film and the culture it portrays but also in a general way that I am sure many mothers and daughters can relate to. Exploring themes like regret, reconciliation, and catharsis take the film beyond the surface layer and explore the depths of the human experience in a meaningful way and Hsu is a major part of that narrative. She’s been a regular on Mrs. Maisel this season and I expect her career is going to take a massive leap forward.
Among all the extraordinary things about this film, Jamie Lee Curtis’ turn as the IRS agent Deirdre (last name: Beaubeirdra) has to be right there near the top. With everything she has done and accomplished throughout her career, you’ve still never seen her quite like this. Her physical acting and body language are pitch-perfect for the character and it’s nice to see her flex her most outlandish comedic muscles again. Nearly every time Curtis is on camera, all eyes are on her, and rightfully so. If they just handed her Best Supporting Actress right now, I’d be completely fine with it.
The visual storytelling here is so much fun and part of the charm is that a good amount of that is done as practically impossible. Cinematographer Larkin Seiple has a good eye and helps tell this story with smart framing and a good understanding of how to capture the action to make it most impactful. Sure, CGI visual effects are involved, but the majority of the coolest shots in the movie are done the old-fashioned way and that gives a sense of authenticity that you can’t replicate with a computer-generated image. As such, Paul Rogers had his work cut out for him in the editing room and some of the coolest shots in the films are done simply with costume and makeup, stitched together in just the right way. To that end, Jason Kisvarday’s production design is spectacular and the juxtaposition of a rundown laundromat against the plethora of universes is poetic. Shirley Kurata did amazing work with the costumes, especially for Hsu’s character, and all the color and creativity popped.
Typically, I’ll find something to like in anything (the vast majority at least) but I am still just blown away by this film. I laughed hysterically, cried genuinely, did both at the same time, and was transfixed by the action sequences and presentation. There aren’t enough nice things to say and even though I was excited about it, it still exceeded my expectations by a wide margin. It is definitely the best movie of the year and should certainly be the leading candidate to take home a boatload of hardware during awards season. Every multiversal effort now has a substantial litmus test, so good luck.
Recommendation: See it for everything, everywhere, all at once. Seriously though, the concept, execution, and performances are all phenomenal. Do yourself a favor and just go see it.
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