Daniels returns with a film brimming with spectacle and soul.
We all wonder about what might have been. Realities where making different choices might have resulted in different outcomes. The duo behind Swiss Army Man, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (better known as Daniels), seems to have long contemplated these paths not taken, judging by their 2014 interactive short film Possibilia. Everything Everywhere All at Once blows open this concept, taking a wild cosmic swing at questions about potential and possibilities, planted within a fracturing family unit.
Evelyn (a stellar Michelle Yeoh) lives in a universe where her fate has taken her down a path of wrong choices. She’s in a rut: a disappointment to her father, distant from her husband, estranged from her daughter, and her laundromat business seems on the verge of financial ruin. En route to a meeting with IRS inspector Deirdre Beaubeirdra (Jamie Lee Curtis, clearly enjoying herself), her rather hapless husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) starts to speak strange words in an unfamiliar tone. Another version of Waymond crosses a dimensional divide to communicate a message from the Alphaverse, a herald that Evelyn might be their last hope to win a multidimensional war, waged by an entity who has managed to broach every strand of reality and seems intent on using this power to end them all. Evelyn isn’t the “One”—she’s the opposite. A life of missed opportunities might make her the perfect conduit for all the talents of her other selves to help win this war. Her monotonous, unfulfilling life is blown wide open at the possibilities of life, the threat to all existence, and the chance to reconnect with her daughter.
Everything Everywhere hurdles you into a fragmented reality, throwing concepts and events at a startling pace. But there is an elegance to the film, and an anchoring in an emotionally resonant core that holds you tight,no matter how abstract or absurd it may get. The plot has a distinctly sci-fi feel, one where Evelyn is introduced to technology from the Alphaverse that allows psychic bridges across the multiverse, drawing on the skills of her counterparts (hibachi chef, opera singer, and martial arts action star, to name but a few) to try and survive the onslaught coming from the disciples of this mysterious, all powerful enemy. This infusion of skills offers opportunities for Evelyn to get herself out of mounting sticky situations, and also offers the best opportunity for the Daniels to veer into full Loony Tunes mode. These connections are initiated by carrying out the most improbable act in that moment, one of several apparent nods to Douglas Adams, leading to some of the more farcical and brazen moments of the film, from dildo nunchuks to buttplug-fueled battles, from black hole bagels to a scene featuring two rocks that is one of the more moving things you’ll see in this or any year. The film revels in a wild creativity.
Events blow open Evelyn’s mind not just in her own timeline, but in those of other Evelyns across the multiverse. Shock gives way to reflection and further yearning for what might have been, while also providing contrast to her current issues. She is a woman adrift in cultural clashes, social anxieties, casual and overt racism, not to mention the emotional struggles within her own family. Her father Gong Gong (the legendary James Hong) has looked down on his daughter since she disobeyed him to move to America and marry Waymond. Her naïve husband fails to grasp her struggles and sallies on, sticking googly eyes on things in the hope they make their days a little brighter. Most pertinent is her broken relationship with daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu), with Evelyn unable to restrain her judgment of her daughter’s career, weight, and sexuality. Yeoh’s performance is the glue that binds this fracturing spectacular together. In many ways, the film seems like a meta-capper to her career and an explosive tribute to her talents. From worn down, befuddled laundromat operator to someone grappling with generational trauma or a woman vibrant with omnipresent power, she handles them all with aplomb. Ke Huy Quan (The Goonies, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) is a gentle delight, the beating heart of the film, while Hsu (Shang Chi), delivers a breakout performance, exuding confidence and depth in an ever-shifting landscape.
Kwan and Scheinert have crafted a film that is meditative and manic, expansive and intimate, sublime and exceedingly silly. Playful nods to films such as The One, Cloud Atlas, The Matrix, and Ratatouille, or the influences of Wong Kar-Wai’s distinct aesthetic, delight rather than distract. Wild ideas, beautifully complemented by a kaleidoscope of bold colors and images from cinematographer Larkin Seipl, are deftly edited by Paul Rogers. Fight choreography harkens back to the golden era of the Shaw Bros., albeit with a distinctly Daniels slant. (Fanny pack combat is legit, people.) Infantile humor, notably running gags featuring sausage fingers and racoons, threaten to throw things off course, but its continued weight actually holds everything down. These ludicrous sights of the multiverse are also tempered by more tender moments. Investing in this Chinese-American family allows the film to explore regret, family dynamics, and generational trauma, and remind us that potential lies within each of us, to be great, and to be kind. Everything Everywhere all at Once is a truly soulful and spectacular vision.