It was exhausting watching ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once.’ Exhausting physically. Exhausting mentally. Exhausting emotionally. And I loved every minute of it.
The film is over two hours of crazy, out-of-this-world action-adventure moments but carefully interwoven into a poignant drama about family (mothers and daughter; husbands and wives, mothers and fathers) and, ultimately, the meaning of life. It is a story about the multiverse, the number of alternate realities that are present and happening simultaneously with ours, and how one character, Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) must learn to access every possible iteration of her to save the world – every world in every universe, in fact – and save her daughter.
Directors and screenwriters Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (credited as Daniels, one moniker for both) approach this material with a madcap sense of humor. They are not afraid to get dark (the violence and gore can get pretty intense), not afraid to get vulgar (there are dildos and buttplug jokes that are actually funny), not afraid to get meta (in all the variations of Evelyn’s character, there is quite a number that reference her career), not afraid to get weird, and definitely not afraid to get personal.
The story is already a lot to deal with: an ordinary housewife, while trying to pay her taxes, discovers that in an alternate reality, she discovered the multiverse and found a way to “verse jump.” Verse jumping is accessing the memories and skills and talents of another version of yourself in another universe and little, ordinary housewife, Evelyn must now find a way to learn how to verse jump so she can save the universe from a destructive being called Jobu Topaki.
Mixed in with this dense science fiction adventure is a story about a woman in strained relationships with her husband (played by Ke Huy Quan) and daughter (an excellent Stephanie Hsu) and father (James Hong). The film manages to bounce back and forth effortlessly from adventure to family drama while pondering upon the meaning of life.
If that wasn’t enough, Daniels manages to imbue the film with exquisite filmmaking. There are split screens, subtitles that shift and change with the story, and clever cinematography and editing. As Evelyn moves between realities, the tone and style of filmmaking change as well. There are homages to Wong Kar Wai’s ‘In the Mood for Love’ in some realities, others are homages to Jackie Chan period kung fu films. The costume designs are out of this world in some moments. Nothing can be expected and everything will take you by surprise.
It’s chaos but there’s so much sense in all of it. It’s why I say ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’ is exhausting. You are laughing out loud in one moment and then, in the next, you are marveling at the fight choreography right before it brings you to horror film levels of suspense and dread. The film itself takes on the infinite possibilities of its own story and Daniels is unafraid to go there and mine it for all its thrills, laughs, and tears.
The performances are all incredible, Quan makes a fantastic return in front of the camera (he became famous as a child actor in the 80s films ‘The Goonies’ and ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’), while Stephanie Hsu shows off her incredible range. Jamie Lee Curtis is incredible and reliable, as always. But at the heart of this movie is Michelle Yeoh. The role is so demanding and she manages to be as mercurial as she is human. She infuses Evelyn with such an ordinariness, a woman who is completely unprepared for this wild journey she is about to enter but can quickly shift to a myriad of different characters. It would be a shame if this performance isn’t recognised at all by any award-giving bodies.
And at the heart of all this beautiful chaos, is a story that really digs deep into what it means to be alive and what it means to be happy in this very crazy world we live in. The craziness of this movie is just an exaggerated reflection of the craziness of the real world of the audience watching it. This two hours and twenty-minutes film manages to encapsulate a lot of this younger generation’s fears and anxieties and triggers and manages to create a dialogue between Evelyn and her husband, daughter, and father that proposes a sort of rationale that can address the underlying nihilism and cynicism that is at the surface of this film.
By the end, I was in tears. I was emotionally spent as much as I was mentally overwhelmed and physically drained by the experience. The last time I felt like this was watching Alfonso Cuaron’s ‘Gravity’ in a 3D IMAX cinema, though I don’t remember laughing as much. I’m definitely watching this film again.
‘Everything Everywhere All At Once‘ is opening in cinemas nationwide on Wednesday, June 29.