I loved Everything Everywhere All At Once. It had been high on my list ever since I saw the trailer, early last year. It is a visual treat. Directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (collectively known as Daniels) pull out all the stops. For all its craziness it tells an endearing story of kindness and redemption. And like the equally zany Holy Motors it is also a love letter to cinema.
Everything Everywhere All At Once follows Evelyn Wang, played by Michelle Yeoh, and her simple-minded but sweet husband Waymond (not a typo), played by Ke Huy Quan (Short Round from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom). The couple has migrated from China to the U.S. and run a flailing laundromat for a living. While being audited by the Internal Revenue Service, an unrecognizable Jamie Lee Curtis, Evelyn is visited by a character who looks a lot like her husband and who claims to be from another universe. He informs her that she must connect with alternate universes to prevent the entire multiverse from cataclysmic destruction at the hands of the evil Jobu Tupaki, who looks a lot like Evelyn’s daughter Joy, played by Stephanie Hsu, a college drop out who struggles to live up to her mother’s expectations.
From here on things get wild, very wild. To jump from one universe to another a person has to tap into the mind of his or her doppelgänger in a parallel universe. Characters have to wait for their verse-jumping device to turn green before they can enter their doppelgänger’s mind or else the lines between the different universes get blurred, as indeed happens several times. Jumping universes is not without consequences either.
As she accesses parallel versions of herself in different universes Evelyn realizes what path her life could have taken. In one universe she is a successful actress, because she chose not to leave her parents and marry Waymond. But in this universe too she encounters Waymond, whose life also took an unexpected turn. But I won’t give everything away.
Everything Everywhere All At Once works on many levels. It is a journey of self-discovery disguised as an action movie. It is a love story and a mother/daughter story in the form of a sci-fi comedy. It is much more besides. It is indeed everything all at once. The film deals with generational trauma, for while Evelyn struggles with her daughter, she also struggles with her own father, who would rather have had a son as a child. It also grapples with issues of ethnic and gender identity. I totally understand why it struck a chord with Asian Americans in the U.S. and Canada.
To jump from one universe to another the characters have to do something weird or improbable, which is a pretext for Daniels to give in to their worst impulses and which gives rise to some over-the-top scenes. The character of Jobu Tupaki is a pretext for the costume and make-up department to go all out.
I loved the break-neck editing and the references to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Ratatouille, In the Mood for Love, Charlie Kaufman and of course Michelle Yeoh’s own role in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Everything Everywhere All at Once is a celebration of everything life throws at us: family, friends, dreams, disillusions, rejection, break-ups and taxes. It is an exceptionally well-made film that demands to be seen multiple times to catch all that is going on in the background. I'm sure there are some inside jokes in Joy's Craiglist posts that flash by in one scene.