Directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (Swiss Army Man) — Screenplay by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert.
It is exceedingly rare to find new original and genuinely inventive films made in the American film industry that also find an audience and make a lot of money at the box office. In that regard, already on paper, writer-director-duo Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert — often referred to as the Daniels — have made a special surprise hit and something to be treasured. But it isn’t just special on paper. Everything Everywhere All At Once is an inspired and unique original film that captures Hollywood’s latest obsession at the right time and is a truly exceptional transportive and moving cinematic experience.
An emotionally intelligent sci-fi action-comedy, The Daniels’ Everything Everywhere All At Once follows Evelyn Quan Wang (played by Michelle Yeoh), a Chinese-American woman, who is struggling to keep her and her family’s laundromat business’ finances in order. It looks like everything is coming apart as she is about to attend a meeting with her IRS inspector (played by Jamie Lee Curtis). Her demanding father, Gong Gong (played by James Hong), has just arrived, her daughter, Joy (played by Stephanie Hsu), is frustrated by the fact that Evelyn won’t acknowledge or accept Joy’s relationship with her girlfriend, and Evelyn’s husband (played by Ke Huy Quan) has prepared divorce papers. But then something happens. On her way to the meeting, her husband turns to her with a tone, and in a way, that is totally unlike him and tells her that parallel universes exist, that the entire multiverse is being threatened by the mysterious Jobu Tupaki, and that he needs our universe’s Evelyn to save the multiverse. Whether she likes it or not, she is about to experience and acquire new skills and see other worlds and alternate realities.
I can’t think of a better moment for this film to be released. The theoretical concept of ‘a multiverse’ is just starting to become familiar to the public thanks to superhero content such as Spider-Man: No Way Home, Loki, and Doctor Strange In The Multiverse of Madness. But what the Daniels have done with this concept in this film puts most other films about parallel universes to shame because of how uniquely executed and innovative this original film is. If the Marvel content opened the door slightly, the Daniels’ have blown right through it to embrace what is on the other side. The Daniels have boldly gone where few multiverse films have gone before by approaching the potential oddities of parallel universes, which has resulted in a movie that jumps nimbly from genre to genre without it ever falling on its face.
The Daniels’ film does borrow from and make references to other filmmakers such as the Wachowskis, Wong Kar Wai, Stanley Kubrick, and more (the way it references Ratatouille made me laugh out loud several times). But, make no mistake, I don’t think anyone other than the Daniels could’ve made this movie exactly like they did. One of the things that makes this film such an incredible moviegoing experience is the way their unique fingerprints have made this film very strange. In 2016, the Daniels teamed up to make one of the most unusual American films of the last decade with Swiss Army Man, a film in which Daniel Radcliffe plays a farting corpse, which, at one point, is used as a speedboat. It sounds like it can’t work, but it really did. And they have taken that same outside-of-the-box quirky approach and applied it to a film about parallel universes.
This movie is so weird and laugh-out-loud funny, in part because of these undeniably strange digressions (like seeing a universe where people have sausages for fingers). But it isn’t just a quirky film that you either get or you don’t. It’s also got a lot of really captivating and engaging action sequences, as well as a beating heart at the center of it thanks to a smart script and some key stand-out performances. One of the ways in which I think Everything Everywhere All At Once lives up to its title is in how the film can be interpreted. There is so much in this one film about family dynamics that it feels a little bit like a catch-all film. I think most people would get something out of it whether it’s finding a new way to appreciate the path you chose in life or realizing why it’s difficult to connect to your family member or something else entirely. The thing that I really latched onto was this idea that even though one may look at your life as meaning nothing special or unimportant that ‘nothing’ matters and that you should embrace the little joys that make up your special little reality.
I want to really talk about one performance that I am going to remember this film for. Michelle Yeoh is fantastic like she always has been. Jamie Lee Curtis is really terrific too, and it looks like she had a lot of fun here. Yeoh and Curtis are recognizable stars, though, and the performance that is the beating heart of this film, for me, was delivered by someone who should have been a star but who was failed by the American film industry. I am of course talking about Ke Huy Quan, who you may not realize was in one of the most popular adventure films of the 1980s. Ke Huy Quan played Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and I always thought his character should’ve inherited the franchise from Harrison Ford’s Indy. And, frankly, I think this film proves that Ke Huy Quan deserves a chance to do exactly that. In this film, he gets to play the nervous but endearing husband, the man on a multiversal mission, as well as a romantic and mysterious man from the past in a sequence that borrows directly from Wong Kar Wai. Through it all, Ke Huy Quan is excellent, and he shows a Christopher Reeve-like ability to go from one side of his character to the next in the blink of an eye without missing a beat.
Admittedly, I was a little bit overwhelmed by this film in its first act, but, once it all set in, the movie just completely swept me away. To me, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s Everything Everywhere All At Once is why you go to the movies. It’s the kind of catch-all cinematic experience that I think can help you to understand someone else through its unique, inspired, but somewhat referential transportive science fiction storytelling. It’s funny, it’s exciting, and it is so very peculiar, and I was just so impressed. This is the first masterpiece of 2022.
10 out of 10
– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.