The filmmaking duo Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, or simply the Daniels, previously wrote and directed the 2016 surreal comedy Swiss Army Man. The film was polarizing with some unable to get on board with its sophomoric humor or attempts at emotional messaging. The Daniels’ new follow-up (not counting Schienert’s 2018 solo feature The Death of Dick Long), Everything Everywhere All At Once, largely maintains that unpredictable sense of humor while adding a vast multiverse, propulsive fight sequences, and a family drama at its heart. While the film is aptly titled in all of its excess, it largely sticks the landing as a truly ambitious work of art.
The film follows Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), an overworked laundromat owner who feels alone in trying to balance everything in her life. It has come to the point where she meets life events with a tired detachment, collapsing her family relationships along the way. Evelyn struggles to value her spouse Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), please her father Gong Gong (James Hong), and perhaps most of all, understand her teenage daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu). This tension comes to a head when the family meets with a tax auditor (Jamie Lee Curtis) who gives them one day to sort everything out and save the laundromat.
It’s here that she gets a visit from her spouse Waymond, except he isn’t the one that she knows. In a flurry of explanations that even the Daniels want to breeze through, the film introduces a world of seemingly infinite universes with infinite Evelyns. There are those where she never owned a laundromat in the first place, versions where she doesn’t leave home with Waymond and becomes a famous film actress, and even one where she exists in a world where people have hot dogs for fingers.
In the film’s wacky way, it all works as a representation of Evelyn imagining what her life could be like if she made different choices. It’s an idea that is immediately relatable — what if one had the opportunity to go back in time and correct past regrets? In a multiverse of seemingly endless what-ifs, the Evelyn that the film follows may be the one who made all the wrong decisions, as she has been stuck living above her laundromat in misery for most of her life. It’s too bad that she’s the one chosen to save the rest of the multiverse from an ominous threat.
The Daniels’ frenzied editing allows the film to effortlessly shift between worlds, even within the same scene. The tax auditing office becomes the setting for an expertly choreographed action set piece where Waymond fights off several police officers with just a fanny pack. These sequences act like a video game, where Evelyn and Waymond hop between universes and gain abilities from their other selves after performing statistically improbable acts.
This mechanism is a creative way to let the Daniels run wild with their imagination and particular brand of humor. Evelyn is able to absorb martial arts knowledge by genuinely professing her love for a foe, while two enemies power up by sticking trophies up their rear ends.
The numerous jumps between universes showcase the actors’ stellar performances. In addition to playing both the film’s action hero and emotional center, Yeoh gets to have fun as Evelyn, who rues lost love in a moving Wong Kar-wai homage and works as a hibachi chef in a raccoon-styled Ratatouille universe. She’s also a far cry from the martial arts masters she played in the beginning of her career in Yes, Madam or the classic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Yeoh transforms her action film experience into physical comedy as Evelyn is often found in disbelief at her newfound fighting abilities. Ke Huy Quan, who is best known as a child actor in the films Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Goonies, also shines with demonstrations of both his adeptness at action choreography and emotional range toward the end of the film.
However, the performances aren’t enough to paper over all of the cracks. The humor doesn’t always land and leans on randomness for the sake of being random a bit too often. The film’s general absurdity undercuts much of its dramatic stakes while many of the tonal shifts from comical to poignancy don’t quite work. The most glaring issues come in the third act, which becomes overly sentimental when it tries to make up for these lost emotional throughlines. Despite its earnestness, the ending isn’t saying anything new and teeters on the verge of platitude, especially when the message is exhaustingly repeated a couple times over.
Ultimately, Everything Everywhere All At Once undeniably demonstrates a unique vision that is perhaps best encapsulated in a touching subtitled scene between two rocks. In a world of countless indies that attempt to embrace ideas of love and family with artful poise, this film stands out above the rest with its vibrant visuals and fast-paced presentation. While the film can be a mess with too many genres to count, it is also a loveable joyride with an admirable sense of fearlessness.
Everything Everywhere All At Once is now playing in select theaters, expanding wide on April 8. Watch the official trailer here.