Review: A Visual Feast, Everything Everywhere All At Once Is Confounding, Compelling and One of the Year’s Best

There are times when a film might attempt to pack too much movie into a single work, and I can easily see people having that issue with the latest from directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (collectively knows as Daniels), Everything Everywhere All At Once. But part of what makes the film so successful is that it exists in a place where some characters actually do experience all things at once, and it drives them, if not insane, then certainly to a place where their minds and hearts grow numb. You could look at this as a metaphor about the internet in general, or social media specifically, or you could see it as a commentary on the last five or six years of our lives. In all likelihood, what you take away from this film depends on what you bring to it, and those are my absolute favorite types of movies.

Everything Everywhere All At Once stars the legendary Michaell Yeoh as Evelyn Wang, a middle-aged Chinese-American woman trying to run a laundromat in California with her well-meaning husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan, from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Goonies, brought out of retirement as an actor after a great deal of success as a youngster). Their marriage is on the rocks, primarily because Evelyn is bored and judgmental, and it’s clear in the beginning that she is capable of being a not nice person, sometimes bordering on cruel, especially when it comes to their grown daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu), a lesbian attempting to introduce her girlfriend to the family. Evelyn blocks this because she’s afraid her father (James Hong) will object to the couple.

At times, the film feels constructed of pure anxiety. Initially the anxiety seems brought on by fairly common things, like fractured relationship and a failing business. But things narrow in a bit on an upcoming IRS tax audit being conducted by a particularly tough agent, Deirdre Beaubeirdra (an almost unrecognizable Jamie Lee Curtis). When the family goes into the IRS offices to square away their tax issues, things take an unexpected turn when Waymond takes off his glasses and instructs Evelyn to change her shoes to the wrong feet, which in turn triggers a series of decisions that sends her mind soaring into a multiversal tour of her other possible lives, including an alternate reality that closely resembles the life and career of Yeoh herself. During the course of the film, we see so many versions of Evelyn it’s easy to lose track, but it becomes clear that she is being guided by a group that needs her assistance in taking on a truly evil villain named Jobu Tupaki, who experiences all of her alternate versions (and their respective emotions) all at once, making her all-powerful and emotionally dead inside.

Evelyn wants no part in this adventure, which sometimes sends her into places where she is a martial arts master, leading to some truly creative fight scenes. But when she finally sees Jobu, her heart breaks as she discovers that the villain is an alternate-reality version of her daughter, the result of bad parenting and a cold upbringing. I don’t think I could properly prepare you for or in any way describe the visual feast that is Everything Everywhere All At Once. There are versions of Evelyn that have hot dogs for fingers, and other that are just her and Joy as two rocks resting on the edge of a cliff, able to communicate without making a sound. There are also realities in which the sometimes-hateful IRS agent is Evelyn’s significant other, and another in which a loyal laundry customer played by Jenny Slate (in Evelyn’s head, she’s nicknamed Big Nose because she can’t be bothered to learn her actual name) becomes an assassin who uses her small dog on a leash as a deadly weapon by means that will not endear her to dog lovers.

Daniels didn’t write this role for Yeoh, but I can’t imagine anyone else who could have fit the bill required to play this layered, action-ready character. When we meet her, she’s a near-broken woman who can’t muster the energy required to save her marriage or salvage the crumbling relationship with her daughter. But through this adventure, in which she is instructed to kill Jobu, she becomes determined to repair the damage she caused and save Joy in the process, whether that’s feasible or not. Naturally, the fate of the world lies in the balance, and the only thing that can save it is apparently a hefty round of self-improvement. It’s clear that Daniels have studied various theoretical sciences that have ideas about the multiverse, and they somehow find a way to contemplate and illustrate many of them in Everything Everywhere All At Once. It’s a work that combines visual dexterity with trippy themes and story elements, smashing it all together to make one of the most purely human stories I’ve seen in quite some time.

Have I thoroughly baffled you? This is a film that clearly needs to be seen multiple times to truly appreciate it, but it’s not tough to love and admire after just one viewing. Let me put it to you this way: with the first three months of 2022 in the books, Everything Everywhere All At Once is my favorite film of the year so far.

The film is now playing theatrically.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.

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