Reading the synopsis for the Daniels’ Everything Everywhere All At Once, it already hints at a story that starts off simple enough that immediately takes a left turn: An overwhelmed, middle aged woman is trying to file her taxes when she suddenly finds herself in the position of having to save the world, by borrowing skills from her multiple alternative universes.
With tax season upon us here in the States, it’s easy to think that many of us would want to swap roles with Michelle Yeoh’s Evelyn Wang in a heartbeat, but that’s before one considers the core of the story, which is filled with emotions over several unresolved issues. That includes everything from Evelyn’s husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), secretly getting ready to file for divorce, to her daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu), trying to get her to accept her girlfriend, to her father (James Hong) who is incredibly critical of her. And then her possible lifelines unfold through decisions she did or didn’t make, which can get chaotic, but in a way that, perhaps, is intended.
Everything Everywhere All At Once — which became available for wide release this past Friday — is a lot to take in. It’s definitely one of those films that requires more than one viewing in order to make sense of some things. At the same time, watching it is like having one’s eyes opened to a whole new level of spirituality, especially with the emotional core of the story remaining so prevalent throughout the multiverse jargon. For a film that was written as somewhat of a commentary on the “too much-ness” of our culture at the beginning of a major shift in our political climate, that message is overwhelmingly felt. It’s an incredible accomplishment, especially when one remembers the fact that this is an independent film.
As for the world building — or in this case, multiverse building — it really lends itself to both the sci-fi aspect and the comedic aspect of the film. There are so many obscure moments — physical comedy, for the most part — that will either have audiences laughing or look away. With the film titled Everything Everywhere All At Once, the Daniels really go all out on that; so much to where it’ll have one never look at bagels, hot dogs, or googly eyes the same way again. It’s a bit of a head scratcher without further context given, but just remember that these are the same guys who directed the infamous 2014 music video for DJ Snake’s song, “Turn Down For What.”
One of the core relationships of the story between Evelyn and Waymond is poignantly portrayed by Yeoh and Quan, yet the beginning of the film finds it start off on a bit of an odd foot. We see him hesitantly get ready to serve her divorce papers, all the while trying to have a conversation with her about his feelings.
The film puts him in the position of almost being a victim to her obliviousness, but what’s worth asking is did he even try attempting to communicate with her before he summoned these documents? Is it meant to be more of a scare tactic to something he might not have even attempted doing well beforehand? The lack of flashbacks to this phase of their relationship seems to indicate so, which is why it doesn’t seem entirely fair to say that Evelyn is uncaring towards him when she likely has no clue what’s on his mind.
That is, of course, a critique on the story setup rather than the actors themselves, who are part of a phenomenal cast. The casting choices are gratifying in not only having Yeoh play a character where she can really demonstrate her range as an actor, but also expand that opportunity to Quan and Hong as well. The former hasn’t acted in anything in two decades, and the roles he’s best known for by American audiences are from his childhood in The Goonies and the Indiana Jones franchise; roles that haven’t exactly held up well overtime. The latter is a living legend in having played over 500 roles throughout his career; his early ones being more so stereotypical than layered as is the case of his character in this film. Despite them all working in Hollywood for so long, it’s fair to say that Everything Everywhere All At Once is some of their best work yet.
The film also gives way for Hsu to shine, in a role that goes beyond just being Evelyn’s estranged daughter. Her background in theatre has very likely given her the capability to have her character take command when she wants to, as well as switch to being vulnerable with the appropriate timing. She was able to hold her own when performing opposite the aforementioned legends and the range she was able to demonstrate already let’s viewers — and hopefully future collaborators — know that she’s not here to play.
There’s a lot to be said about Everything Everywhere All At Once. It’s absolutely chaotic in the best possible way. It allows its cast to shine in ways some of them haven’t been given the opportunity to do so before. It’s a commentary relevant to the ongoing discourse regarding the “too much-ness” of our culture. Above all, it’ll have viewers look at both their decisions and relationships in ways perhaps otherwise not considered before and to think deeper about them.