Review: ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’ (laundry and taxes and existentialism)

Be. All that you can be.

Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) is prone to daydreaming, imagining all the things she wanted in her life and could have done. Instead, she co-owns a run-down laundromat with her passive husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) and lives upstairs with their estranged teenage daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu). Planning a Chinese New Year’s gathering at their business during a visit from her disapproving father Gong Gong (James Hong), Evelyn is further distracted in dreading the excuses she’ll have to make to their IRS tax agent Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis) to keep the laundromat afloat for another year. At the very moment when all the pressures in her so-called life are intersecting, a new wrinkle in Evelyn’s timeline rears its many heads: endless possibility.

Anyone interested in seeing this film should stop reading now; they may know too much already. Writer/directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert — collectively The Daniels — have bitten off more than anyone has any right to chew: a multiversal sci-fi and fantasy kaleidoscope of a film grounded in a bitter reality daring to ask what version of oneself is considered “best.” Focusing an amazing cast where no one is any one thing and the story can literally go anywhere, The Daniels ask a lot of their audience, to trust they know what they’re doing and that it’s all coming to some kind of point. Fortunately, studio A24 is in their corner and betting big on this becoming a breakout hit. Will audiences embrace everything Evelyn, or will they stare off into space pretending to pay attention while dreaming of everywhere else?

All choices come with benefits and consequence, but in the end they’re still just choices, each leading to another possibility. From the moment the core concept is introduced, Everything Everywhere expertly builds its mythology upon itself in the best possible and most entertaining ways. The secret is all in the editing, ensuring it moves fast enough to keep viewers engaged but not so much they can’t keep up — all things in perfect balance (insert mandatory Thanos reference here). Inspirations for sequences and concepts are easily recognizable for genre fans of “Sliders,” The Matrix, Kill Bill, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and even a bit of Groundhog Day, but The Daniels aren’t content to stop there, leaning unapologetically into other favorites too fantastic to believe while still making it work together. The best compliment that can be paid to the final cut is its sense of making metaphors into literal reality, likening the mundane to the fantastic and the fantastic to the mundane.

The film embraces the best aspects of an adventure (characters can change their outcome) and a drama (characters must deal with the inevitable), seeded with bits of surreal horror and humor throughout. The cast is game to play with different versions of themselves, from dour to diabolical and everything in between. Yeoh is every bit the headliner, revisiting her myriad real-life careers as alternate Evelyns and owning them all. Ke Huy Quan is embracing a return to acting after a twenty-year absence; remember Short Round from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? Extra kudos goes to James Hong still in the acting game in his nineties… and making a good case for the actor actually being an immortal.

It’s fortunate that Spider-Man: No Way Home, the “Loki” series on Disney Plus, and the upcoming Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, have provided a recent reference to alternate versions of characters and the worlds they inhabit. Even if these didn’t exist for audiences to cue in upon, Everything Everywhere doesn’t need them to explain itself: it is what it is. Now, go see the film and make good choices… or don’t — but who wants to take that risk?

Everything Everywhere All At Once is rated R for some violence, sexual material and language, and living in the moment.

Four skull recommendation out of four

2 comments

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