film review: Everything Everywhere All at Once
Review Overview Ideas 10/10 Execution 10/10 Michelle Yeoh Rating 10/10 This stunning, mind-bending sci-fi adventure about tax, life, love and googly eyes is a profoundly silly masterpiece.
Director: Daniel Scheinert, Daniel Kwan Cast: Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsu, James Hong, Jamie Lee Curtis Certificate: 15
“The only thing I know is that we have to be kind. Especially when we don’t know what’s going on.” Those words take on more and more significance as Everything Everywhere All at Once unfolds – and the fact that they come from Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), the husband of laundrette owner Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) whose counterpart from another universe repeatedly quantum-leaps into his body, only makes the message seem even more important.
The film begins with Evelyn and Waymond being audited by the IRS, but before you can say “boring paperwork”, their meeting with Deirdre Beaubeirdra (Jamie Lee Curtis) is interrupted by the appearance of another Waymond, who turns out to have travelled across the multiverse to reach Evelyn. Why her out of the countless Evelyns that exist in all time and space? Because she is The One, a prophesied warrior who can save all life from the threat of Jobu Tupaki.
The only catch? Evelyn doesn’t believe that she could possibly be this mythical saviour. After all, her business is on the verge of collapse despite her exhausted efforts, her husband seems blissfully unaware of any problems, she’s long since given up on her dreams of being a singer, an actor or a chef, and she’s struggling to connect with her daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu). And, to top it off, her conservative father, Gong Gong (James Hong), is visiting and she’s afraid to tell him that Joy has a girlfriend.
That, however, is exactly the point, with her alt-universe husband telling her that she is living categorically her worst possible life and that “every rejection, every disappointment has led you to this moment”. She’s capable of anything, she’s told, because she’s so bad at everything.
That’s the kind of beautifully paradoxical logic you can expect from Everything Everywhere All at Once. Writing-directing duo Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (aka Daniels) announced themselves as eccentric filmmakers extraordinaire with Swiss Army Man and this sophomore feature doubles down on that promise and then some, catapulting us through every conceivable possible outcome from every conceivable possible decision on the way to Evelyn working out her purpose.
It’s a dizzying ride that is stuffed with non-stop visual trickery and packed with relentless imagination. At times baffling, at times hilarious and at times deeply sad, it’s an astonishing ride through unfiltered creativity. From hot dogs for fingers to chewing gum that’s been stuck under a chair giving you super powers, if you’ve ever thought it, the film probably shows it at some point.
That constant rush of ideas should be overwhelming to the point of distraction, and yet that’s entirely the point, as the film lives up to its title by serving up all the things in one massive dump. But look past the critical mass of people, places and things threatening to become a black hole and swallow everything into meaningless oblivion and the film’s amazing success is that it’s about all the tiny things in life too. It’s an exploration of the importance of communication between parents and children – about their own expectations and disappointments as well as the expectations they have of each other – of the support partners can give each other, of the threat of overload that plagues us all in an always-connected age, of the importance of finding a sense of belonging in spite of, and because of, all the above.
Painting such a colossal and simultaneously minute canvas is only possible with the right cast, and Everything Everywhere gets it right on all counts. Ke Huy Quan, who played Short Round in Indiana Jones, is impossibly charming at all times, able to change his facial expressions at the drop of a hat without losing the emotional core of his caring presence. Jamie Lee Curtis is hilariously game for playing a twisted villain – and even surreal love interest – as the scene-stealing Deirdre. And Stephanie Hsu, fresh from dazzling in The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, is jaw-dropping as Evelyn, capturing the chaos and confusion life with flair, a threatening authority and a delightfully unpredictable sense of humour.
Daniels juggle their characters with inventive aplomb, hopping genres with glee and paying homage to everything from In the Mood for Love to Ratatouille. Throughout, they find a constant in witty set pieces powered by martial arts and soundtracked by Claire de Lune – it’s like watching House of Flying Daggers being remade on a shoestring by Michel Gondry.
But the undoubted star of the show is Michelle Yeoh, who delivers the best performance of her career – not because she’s never been this good elsewhere, but because she’s never been given the chance. In a role tailored to to her unique set of skills, she gets to showcase every ounce of her remarkable range, from action and romance to poignant melancholy and flawless comic timing. It’s the kind of turn that deserves an Oscar, balancing googly eyes and maternal concern with a frenzied, soulful charisma.
The result is a profoundly silly masterpiece that’s like nothing else you’ll watch this year (or any year). It’s a mind-bending ride through taxes, life, love and dreams. Faced with the incomprehensible scale of infinity and beyond, it rejects a sense of insignificance and instead celebrates the joys of being kind and spending time with a loved one, and asks – what more could you want?