Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022) Review
JUST BE A ROCK!
The idea of a multiverse has certain been a big business in recent big mainstream tentpoles, with blockbuster cinematics of late exploring the various concepts of alternate timelines and different lives. While not exactly a new convention of plot mechanics, multiverse business has utilized in a wide variety of storytelling art forms, including comic books, literary novels, video games, TV shows, and (more important to this review) feature films. Alternative histories and realities, the combination factors of “what if?”, and the interdimensional travels in-between such existences have always been at the forefront of the imagination and have generate a plethora of tales and stories for individuals to explore / navigate through. In Hollywood, the idea of a multiverse concept has been around for quite some time, but has recently become more popular, including such films as 2001’s The One, 2009’s Star Trek, 2011’s Source Code, 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, 2019’s Happy Death Day 2U, 2021’s Spider-Man: No Way Home, and 2022’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness just to name a few. Now, A24 Studios and directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinart prepare jump to the multiverse idea with their film Everything Everywhere All at Once. Does this film bring this “multiverse” concept to life, or does it get lost within its own lofty and philosophical idealism?
Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) has been stuck in mundane routine for decades. She runs a laundromat with her quirky husband, Waymond (Key Hu Quan), deals with her elderly father, Gong Gong (James Hong), and is a struggling parent in trying to manage her teenage daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu), who’s working up the courage to come out with her girlfriend, Becky (Tallie Medel) to her mother. Evelyn is handling plans for an evening party at the laundromat, but the family is also handling with financial woes with the I.R.S., finding rep Deidre (Jamie Lee Curtis) losing patience with their tax mistakes and blunders. During her meeting with Deirdre, Evelyn’s life is suddenly turned upside down when she is confronted by Waymond from an alternate reality, the Alphaverse, instructing her to follow his instructions, teaching the confused woman to manipulate her surroundings in some bizarre situations. Whether ready for such an experience, Evelyn is then flung headfirst into the depths of splintered existence, learning about the multiverse and the power of choices and talents of her other alternative lives, with Joy becoming known as Jobu Tupaki, bent on bringing the newly developed fright to the other side of darkness of nothingness.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
It goes without saying that the idea of utilizing alternative timelines and multiverse concept has been around for quite some time and I’ve seeing it done many times. I’m not stating that is a stale and / or tiresome trope to use within the narrative mechanics, but that it is just a proven plot engine that has been around and has made it’s away across a wide variety of storytelling constructs. Perhaps the best one that I could think of is the usage of it in the Chrono video game series (i.e., Chrono Trigger and Chrono Series), which utilized time travel mechanics and crossing into other alternate realties. If you haven’t played those games, I do highly recommend them. For TV, I would say that a good personal example of this could be found in Marvel’s “What if?” series, which took various superhero characters from the MCU and take different directions for the characters….in both development and tone. As for movies, the ones that I mentioned above are some prime examples of the multiverse idea, with a lot being superhero movies, but a few action-drama (Source Code) and a dark horror comedy (Happy Death Day 2U). In the end, the idea of multiverse traversing isn’t anything new, but it is something that many are taking notice and integrating it into different mediums of storytelling more and more frequently.
This brings me back to talking about Everything Everywhere All at Once, a 2022 comedy-drama and the latest film to tackle the multiverse concept. To be honest, I really didn’t hear much about this movie was when it was first announced or even during its production. There just wasn’t too much hype surrounding it during that time. That being said, I did begin to hear about this film when it was released and begun to hear a lot of “word of mouth” of how good this movie was. Even early advance reviews for the project promised a very interesting and almost original film idea (something that haven’t heard in quite some time in my watchings of movies nowadays). Time passed, while Everything Everywhere All at Once was released in theaters (on March 25th, 2022), I decided to wait on seeing this movie. Not because I heard that it was bad or anything, but I was still playing “catch up” with some of my other movie reviews and had to be sure to get those done before I tackled watching / reviewing this feature. I did catch the movie trailer several times while I was at the movies (during the “coming attractions” preview) and have to say that I was pretty much in the same boat as a lot of people when they first saw it. It looked totally bonkers and such a bizarre concept. That being said, I was definitely curious to see, especially since how it said it was going to feature actress Michelle Yeoh as the main lead character role. So, I eventually did decide to check out Everything Everywhere All at Once with a friend of mine…. roughly after a month after its initial release. Unfortunately, after that, I got a little busy with my personal family project of mine (as mentioned before), so my writing and reviewing movies got a little bit pushed to the backburner, including getting my review done for this film. So, finally…. after some time…. I have finally had some free time to delve into the entertaining madness that this particular film has to offer. And what did I think of it? Well, to be quite honest, I really liked this movie. Despite having some minor clunky points of criticism, Everything Everywhere All at Once is a masterful cinematic presentation of large-scale ideas on an indie film budget that definitely works by harmonizing absurd multiverse concepts with thought-provoking morals and thematic messages. The movie is bizarre in a few areas (there is no denying that fact), but the creativeness behind such absurd moments is beautifully blended with big poignancy of dramatic heart, which helps the movie finds a pleasant rhythm of pure filmmaking joy.
EEAO is directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinart, who are known collectively as the “Daniels” and who have collaborated together on several film projects, including several short films (Possibilla and Interesting Ball) as well as the dark comedy humor film Swiss Army Man. While I personally haven’t seen the other short films, I did catch a glance at 2016’s Swiss Army Man and, given the absurdity that the movie told within its story, the Daniels seem like a suitable choice in approaching and ultimately shaping the movie such as EEAO. As mentioned, the film’s trailer looked like was going to be quite a wacky adventure and (kind of sort of) it actually is, but in a good way. The Daniels subvert expectations in many ways, including a series of absurd scenarios and unconventional humorous scenes that help explain certain events and / or sequences to help explain the movie’s logic. In a nutshell, think of the movie like a mash-up feeling that’s equal parts Quantum Leap, The Matrix, and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Such a concept sounds quite bizarre on paper, but the end result definitely works, finding the Daniels assessment of layered storytelling and wacky tomfoolery to be a blissful marriage for an intriguing cinematic appetite. Plus, it’s quite fun and interesting to see what ideas and scenarios that the Daniels were able to come up with in the movie and watching the character of Evelyn go on a very strange journey; one that finds poignant meaning and one of self-discovery.
Perhaps a very interesting aspect that the movie has to offer is in its thematic moral messages that are presented throughout the film. While fundamental meanings and commentary morals are always accustomed to motion pictures (in some way, shape, or form), the importance of these particular themes can be extrapolated to some degree for the viewer to digest and understand (and sometimes) mirror the character’s struggles and triumphs. In EEAAO, those themes are projected quite boldly and beautifully; finding the script for the movie ripe with such examples like fighting / violence is never the only answer, the cautions of nihilism (finding life meaningless), never consume your worries of the road / direction not taken, and (above all else) there is always something (or someone) to love. In the end, while the movie delves into some absurd and wacky elements throughout Evelyn’s journey, EEAAO explores some universal and powerful themes and give this movie some poignancy and meaningful understand about life and existence. I personally did not expect that from the film and was quite surprised by it…. loving the clash goofy nuances and heartfelt themes to make for a well-rounded viewing experience.
In its presentation category, EEAAO has a very unique and colorful visual flair within its production value, which (again) offers big time aesthetics within a small budgetary endeavor. With a budget of $25 million to make the movie, the Daniels utilize the film’s narrative to work within their framework and actually manage to make something quite extraordinary. Again, dealing with the multiverse has big “blockbuster” potential with an even higher production value to tell such tale, yet the Daniels keep the feature’s background and setting mostly grounded in the real world as well as indie project of sorts. The result is something that feels small, yet tells a big story, with the setting aesthetics. Still, given the tale being told, there are plenty of fun visuals, nifty gimmicks, and absurdity references that are clearly represented in the feature’s flair that are both hilarious and a bit of head-scratcher (in a good way). The marriage of the real world and the fictional world of oddities and miracles is well-met in the (from a visual standpoint) and creates something amusing moments of creative fun. This makes EEAAO something quite different and (like what I said above) have its own cinematic swagger from onset to conclusion. Thus, the film’s “behind the scenes” team, including Amelia Brooke (art direction), Jason Kisvarday (production design), Kelsi Ephraim (set decorations), Shirley Kurata (costume designs), and Paul Rodgers (film editing), should be highly praised for what they were able to produce within the film’s final product, which results in a very vibrant film world that blends realism and fantastic together for cinematic joy. This also speaks to the feature’s cinematography efforts made by Larkin Seiple, which offers up plenty of stunning and sometimes hilarious visual gags and effects that make the movie itself stand out through some cinematic moments. Of course, some of the feature’s “big scenes” are highlighted quite well, but it’s actually the quieter and intimidate sequences that Seiple excels at showcasing and harmonizes within the some of those emotional / dramatic moments. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Son Lux, is terrific and definitely compliments the feature’s various scenes; blending the absurd and calm moments that lend weight and theatrical poise perfectly.
While a great and fantastic film to enjoy, EEAAO does have a few points of criticism that can be a little hard to overlook in the grand scheme of this multiverse cinematic endeavor. None of these derails the feature, but it does leave a little bit to be desired within the overall construction and execution of this particular motion picture. For starters, it certainly does take time to actually get to the “meat and potatoes” of the film. What do I mean? Well, the first act of the feature is quite slow paced and meanders through such character builds and storyline quandaries that it becomes a bit too much. It eventually gets to the main substance of the plot, but that particular climb takes some time to get to, which might make a few viewers find the first act a tad boring. The same can be said for the final twenty or so minutes of the film. Yes, the third act climax does have problematic areas, especially when there are a bunch of revelations to confront, which are good and enlightening to behold, but the “final confrontation” is way too long and elongates this portion of the story unnecessarily. The Daniels could’ve easily reduced the amount of time during this portion significant and still walk away with an immensely satisfying ending without the prolonged conclusion act. To make you understand this, the movie has a runtime of 139 minutes (two hours and nineteen minutes) and it really does feel like a very long movie…. mostly due because of everything that it has to unpack within its plot.
Next, while I do praise the Daniels for their efforts of making such a grand and ambitious film project within the modest small production budget, there are a few times where the movie’s limitations are noticeable. Storytelling concept ideas and visual effects imagery have their moments in the sun, but it feels like they (the Daniels) wanted to show / explain more in Evelyn’s journey and the multiverse struggle of Jobu Tupaki that was put into the movie. Thus, the film’s budgetary constraints seem to hinder the narrative a few times as you (the viewer) kind of want to know more of what is going on. Furthermore, the movie does play “fast and loose” with its situations and ideas and doesn’t slow much time to fully digest things that are happening. It wasn’t totally bothersome to me, but there were a few times were a bit of a “head scratcher” for me as I viewed the movie and couldn’t comprehend somethings every now and again. That was on my first go around with the movie, so you may have to watch it several times to fully understand everything that is going on.
The cast in EEAAO is quite exceptional and, while it’s not a sprawling cast of characters that are interwoven throughout the story, the selected individual acting talents involved on this project are highly capable to produce some memorable and well-drawn characters to life. Leading the charge (and headlining the film) is actress Michelle Yeoh, who plays the central protagonist character of Evelyn Wang. Yeoh, who is known for her roles in Memoirs of a Geisha, Tomorrow Never Dies, and Crazy Rich Asians, has always been a capable actress (as her career showcases that point), but she has slowly been getting more and more work with each year and further demonstrating that she is a powerhouse of acting and screen presence. Thus, it comes as no shocker that Yeoh excels in EEAAOO and delivers a powerful and stirring character portrayal within Evelyn. The character herself goes on quite a journey and evolves through her bizarre situations. Thus, the written character is quite interesting and well-rounded, especially as Evelyn explores alternate lives of hers and the hard truths of philosophical choices. This means that the character is quite “juicy” with a lot to contribute in the movie and Yeoh is up to the task of fleshing her out…. cinematically speaking. Yeoh beautiful fully realizes Evelyn in a very multifaceted way that’s equal parts enlightening, emotional, heartfelt, humorous, and grounded in realism. All in all, Yeoh is fantastic in the movie, and she is definitely the standout acting talent in the film.
Looking beyond, Yeoh’s Evelyn, EEAAO has several large supporting characters that interact with Evelyn throughout the feature and have their own memorable and personal impact on her and on the feature itself. First there is actor Ke Huy Quan (The Goonies and Loki), who plays Evelyn’s eccentric husband Waymond Wang. On the surface (and from opening scene), the character of Waymond is indeed a quirky individual, with Quan gleefully (and quite hilariously) playing up all the idiosyncrasies with a fine tune precision. He actually produces the most laughs in my opinion in the movie. That being said, Quan’s acting is further demonstrated as the feature’s plot develops and becomes just as strong as Yeoh in the movie. Oh yeah…and there scenes together (Quan and Yeoh) are usually touching and heartfelt, especially a few that take place in alternative reality. Next, there is actress Stephanie Hsu (The Marvelous Ms. Maisel and The Path), who plays Evelyn’s daughter Joy Wang. Can’t really go into much detail with the character as that would spoil the character’s narrative path in the movie, but suffice to say that Hsu does quite a exceptional job in the movie as the wayward teen and how she clashes with her mother. Plus seeing her act alongside Yeoh (for large scenes in the movie) is quite terrific to see.
Behind those two particular characters, there is actor James Hong (Kung Fu Panda and Big Trouble in Little China) who plays Gong Gong, Evelyn’s demanding father. Hong is quite a gifted Asian actor (his career has proven that) and it’s great to see still acting and providing plenty of theatrical quips and moments throughout the movie. His character of Evelyn’s father is quite standard in the first act but proves to be quite an interesting character as EEAAO develops further into its multiverse story. All in all, great work from Hong. Lastly, actress Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween and True Lies) provides a good supporting character role in the role of Deirdre Beaubeirdre, a grumpy IRS inspector agent that is auditing Evelyn’s laundry business. Without going into spoiler territory for EEAAO, the character of Deirdre comes off as just a standard side character in the beginning of the film, but develops more and more as the film’s narrative goes on, especially in an alternative universe scenario. Plus, Curtis is always great to play such a character, which makes the character memorable from onset to conclusion.
Rounding out the rest of the cast includes actor Harry Shaun Jr. (Glee and Shadowhunters) as Chad, a teppanyaki chef working alongside Evelyn in an alternate universe, actress Tallie Medel (The Unspeakable Act and The Carnivores) as Joy’s girlfriend Becky Sregor, and actress Jenny Slate (Zootopia and Parks and Recreation) as laundromat customer Debbie the Dog Mom. Most of these particular characters are delegated to very small and minor supporting players in the film (and therefore are designed that way), so they don’t have much screen-time beyond the main principal cast. That being said, I had to problem with them and do get there moments to shine here and there across the feature.
Stuck within her mundane life and contemplating her tiresome life, Evelyn Wang is thrust into an otherworldly experience and learns what she is capable of as she saves the multiverse from the villainous efforts of Jobu Tupaki in the movie Everything Everywhere All at Once. Directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinart (the Daniels) latest film is perhaps one of the most ambitious projects to date, with such lofty and big blockbuster ideas / concepts and present it within a small budget indie / arthouse feature film. While having a few problems within its execution and pacing issues, the end result is something that miraculously works and delves into something widely entertaining and meaningful, with especial thanks to the Daniels’s direction, a sometimes goofy, yet through-provoking narrative, several humorous and clever concept usage of the multiverse tropes, delving into deeper thematic messages and commentary, a solid visual presentation, and a terrific cast with notable performances from Yeoh, Quang, and Hsu. Personally, I really liked this movie. Yes, it was completely bonkers at times and definitely had those “WTF” moments littered throughout the movie, but it was very unique and different movie that what I was expecting to be. It had some originality to it and was creatively done in way that subverted my expectations in a highly enjoyable way. Definitely the big surprise hit of the year…. bar none. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is indeed a highly favorable “highly recommended” for its sheer brilliance of cinematic nuances and being something different from the classic tentpoles of the year’s movie lineup. In the end, Everything Everywhere All at Once is an ambitious gamble of a project that pays off with immense satisfaction and demonstrates that there still is clever juice still left in Hollywood from some hidden gems out there. As some are calling it to be, Everything Everywhere All at Once isn’t just a movie…. it’s an experience!
4.5 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)
Released On: March 25th, 2022
Reviewed On: October 11th, 2022
Everything Everywhere All at Once is 139 minutes long and is rated R for some violence, sexual material, and language