The Daniels’ (the duo comprised of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) new film, Everything Everywhere All at Once, is magnificent in the ways that it explores family trauma and how to find beauty in a life often filled with disappointments and failures. But it also includes scenes that are absolutely ridiculous and sometimes flat-out gross. An abbreviated list of examples: People photocopying their butt and eating a tube of chapstick; a world where everyone has hot dogs for fingers; a fight involving dildos; and another fight involving awards in the shape of dildos. If that all sounds like a lot to you, don’t worry—it all works. There’s a lot of big and small ideas in Everything Everywhere All at Once, but everything comes together. It’s a miracle of a film.
The new A24 film, Everything Everywhere All at Once, is a brilliant exploration of generational trauma and feelings of hopelessness. The film presents a lot of big ideas, but it all works.
Everything Everywhere All at Once is helmed by Michelle Yeoh, playing Evelyn Wang, a woman who is attempting to finish her taxes for her laundromat business while dealing with the needs of her husband (Ke Huy Quan); her father (James Hong); and her daughter, Eleanor (Stephanie Hsu). The film begins as a seemingly normal family drama; Evelyn goes up and down the apartment above the laundromat while attending to customers and making preparations for a Chinese New Year celebration. The film takes a turn once Evelyn goes to meet with an IRS agent (Jamie Lee Curtis, perfectly cast) about issues with her taxes. That is when she finds out that she is only in one out of many dimensions. And, as she is told, she’s currently living the worst version of herself, someone who is not famous or highly accomplished.
Although it involves a multiverse, the sci-fi elements of the film aren’t needlessly complicated or overbearing. There are elements that resemble films like The Matrix, but this is a true action film—complete with amazingly choreographed fight scenes. The heart of Everything Everywhere All at Once encompasses many dark themes, like depression and wondering if there’s a point to anything we do. Yet it uses humor to present these themes, resulting in a film that elicits laughs and reactions from the audience. During the world premiere at the South by Southwest (SXSW) film festival on March 11, there were few scenes that didn’t cause the audience to cheer, clap, or shout. (The cast and crew were in the audience, which likely added to these reactions, but I think it’s still a film that is impossible not to verbally react to in some way.)
Michelle Yeoh, who recently starred in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Star Trek: Discovery, and will soon star in a new Witcher spin-off series, really deserved to be the star of a film. Luckily, Daniels recognized that, and they showcase all of her talents here, from her background in martial arts to her ability to evoke emotion with one glance. Her character of Evelyn is complex and developed, and by the end of the film, we feel as if we’ve been through a journey with her. It’s not just Yeoh who stands out here, though. Hsu, who has starred in Broadway shows and is currently on Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, is excellent here. As Eleanor, she steals scenes in lavish costumes that represent her different selves in the multiverse. She wants her mother to accept her for who she is, and not dismiss the fact that she has a girlfriend. You can feel the weight of her emotions like a gut punch. All of this is to say: Hsu needs more lead roles, stat.
In smaller roles, Ke Huy Quan and James Hong both shine. Quan moves through different versions of himself with ease; at the Q&A following the premiere, he said that he channeled a squirrel for one of his characters—you have to see it to understand. Quan also represents the softer side of the film. Without giving too much away, he reminds other characters that empathy can solve problems. Hong plays the patriarch of the family, and his character sparks Evelyn’s generational trauma, which she fears passing on to her daughter. But Hong clearly has fun with the film, and his comedic moments are the best part of seeing him on-screen. Curtis’ scenes are loose and feel improvised—in a good way. And her star power doesn’t overshadow the other actors.
To describe Everything Everywhere All at Once is hard. It’s a film where there’s literally a lot of things going on at once. If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed by the amount of information on the internet, or have trouble focusing on one task, you’ll definitely relate to a lot of the themes presented here. While Daniels said that the film involves many leftover ideas from other projects, Everything Everywhere All at Once is cohesive. “We’ve been slowly building up the ability to make something like this,” said Kwan. And it certainly paid off.