If 2022 hasn’t been weird and existential enough, this year will see more than one film about the multiverse. It’s a conceit that revels in the idea of our connection to an infinite number of parallel universes, which means that there are other versions of ourselves out there living different, but not necessarily better lives.
This is a concept that A24’s Everything Everywhere All at Once embraces wholeheartedly. The exuberance and thrills shown throughout the film’s gorgeously shot jaunt across the multiverse is a true spectacle of weirdness and joy. In my eyes, it is the definitive multiverse movie and one of the best films of 2022.
Many are eagerly awaiting Marvel’s Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, which continues the dimension-hopping hijinks from Spider-Man: No Way Home to further expand the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Everything Everywhere All at Once, however, uses the multiverse concept to focus on the story of a family just trying to make it through tax season — and save the many universes in the process.
The film begins with Evelyn Wang (played by Michelle Yeoh) trying to get her life and her failing laundry business in order ahead of a trip to the IRS office. While dealing with stress, taxes and getting along with her family, the body of her husband Waymond (played by Key Huy Quan) gets hijacked by a parallel universe Waymond. According to the other Waymond, the multiverse is on the verge of collapse due to an interdimensional being searching for this version of Evelyn. As it turns out, THIS Evelyn isn’t a special chosen one, but rather an incarnation of Evelyn “who’s living her worst you.”
I’m trying my best not to spoil the film’s beginning, as the less you know, the better. After the opening 20 minutes, what follows is a spectacular action-comedy film that channels The Matrix, but with the style of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and momentum similar to James Cameron’s The Terminator. Still, this film isn’t a pastiche of classic sci-fi, rather these influences all come together to make a whole that feels totally original.
Primarily, the film shows a lot of affection toward 1990s Asian cinema, particularly the works of Jackie Chan and Wong-Kar Wai. The action scenes are choreographed in the vein of classic action films like Super Cop and Police Story, which are all stunning showcases of physical comedy and kung-fu action. But the more dramatic scenes channel the quiet and intimate moments from films like Wong-Kar Wai’s In The Mood for Love or Chungking Express. These, along with allusions to Western fiction, all seem like disparate elements, but it all adds ups to a mix that feels so exciting and touching to see unfold.
The true centerpiece of the film is Michelle Yeoh. In Everything Everything All at Once, she delivers an impeccable performance as an ordinary middle-aged naturalized American citizen who dreams of what life could be like if she made different choices.
This notion is the hook of the film, and we get to see some truly bizarre moments where Evelyn steps into another life and picks up skills and knowledge along the way. On a meta-level, this film highlights Yeoh’s career as an international movie star and icon, which adds even more weight to her performance. There has never been a film like this where Yeoh flexes her comedy, drama and action movie muscles effortlessly, and it was a real blast seeing her own every scene she’s in.
In many ways, Everything Everywhere All at Once feels like a tribute to Yeoh, showcasing how talented and often underutilized she is. But it also provides great moments for its supporting cast, including Key Huy Quan. This is his first major role following early retirement due to being typecast after his roles as Data in The Goonies and as Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
Quan effectively plays multiple roles in the film, and he deftly hops between his different incarnations of Waymond. One is a timid middle-aged husband with self-doubts, another is a badass resistance fighter who channels the swagger and effortlessness of heroes from Hong Kong-style action films. His scenes are satisfying to watch play out, and he’s a natural at showing physical comedy and bonding with Yeoh during the film’s more dramatic heights.
Jamie Lee Curtis, playing Deirdre, is also a fantastic antagonist in the film. An IRS auditor with strong “Karen” energy, Deirdre is imbued with interdimensional powers. Curtis is also playing against type as a villain relentlessly hunting down a victim. Other standouts include James Hong as Evelyn’s aging father and Evelyn’s daughter Joy (played by Stephanie Hsu), whose different incarnations tie into the film’s emotional arc.
Another reason why the film works so well is from the creators themselves. The film is directed by Daniels (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, get it?), who previously worked on the oddball but still touching comedy Swiss Army Man and the infamous music video for DJ Snake and Lil’ Jon’s Turn Down for What. This “go-for-broke” energy from their previous works carries over into Everything Everywhere All at Once, and it really elevates much of the humor and action into some crowd pleasing moments.
The directors’ style is all about stretching the limits of what’s real, almost to the point of venturing into a surreal live-action cartoon. Everything Everywhere All at Once is a surreal film, but it always uses that in service to its characters. It grounds the movie when it comes to its emotional core, about family and living with regret. Above all, this is an immigrant story of living life in America, which resonated for me as someone with a parent who traveled to a strange land to make a life for himself.
In the film’s darkest moments, it steps into the boundaries of nihilism when confronted with the infinite nature of the universe, but it ultimately embraces the gift of being alive, even just for the brief amount of time we have, to be with the people we love. It’s an incredibly life-affirming message, especially for a film that balances raunchy action scenes involving bad guys licking walls or busting out into singing Ave Maria to gain interdimensional powers (it totally makes sense in the context of the film).
Everything Everywhere All at Once is so wildly unorthodox and experimental for an action comedy, and I dug it for that. It puts much of its cast in unusual scenes that are so out of the norm for them, and it pays off so well. Lately, there’s been some commentary on the current state of films, with sequels and other tie-ins taking up the limelight. This movie is one of the rare ones that totally punches above its weight to stand alongside the big films of the year.
This is a film that embraces the weird, and that’s such a great quality to have in a movie in this age. There’s much more I can say, but you’d be better off with just watching it yourself. This is a stunning, hilarious and just touching movie about family, taxes and the multiverse, and it’s a must watch for 2022.
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