It could always be worse, right?
In Everything Everywhere All at Once, Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) learns she is the absolute worst version of herself in all of the multiverse. But in an ironic twist, that makes her the only one capable of saving all of the alternate realities from Jobu Topaki’s Black Bagel, a singularity primed to wipe out all of existence.
Yeah, the premise sounds ridiculous, and the movie really goes ham, literally — if there’s an infinite amount of possibilities branching off from an infinite amount of consequences from choices we make, is it that farfetched to have a universe where everyone has hot-dog wieners for fingers?
Regardless, or irregardless, Everything Everywhere All at Once is a masterpiece. Its title isn’t just appropriate for the plot — it’s the method in which the film delivers its story. The film will overwhelm you with images, sensations, and an experience that will make you laugh, cry, and shout, “What the what?!”
The Daniels, the writing and directing team of Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, have created something next-level. It’s like a movie trailer that’s filled with all of the good stuff except it’s more than two hours long. There’s kung-fu, a chef controlled by a raccoon, the aforementioned hot-dog fingers becoming the apex primate branch in 2010: A Space Odyssey, and a Wong Kar Wai homage that provides one of the turning points for both Evelyn and her husband Waymond’s story arc.
Or is it arcs?
When the credits began scrolling the second time — you’ll understand when you see it — I found myself sitting there in the dark thinking this may be the greatest movie I’ve ever seen.
It’s hard to explain it all in words, but I’ll try.
Everything Everywhere All at Once is everything you’ve seen before in a way that you haven’t seen it before. Does that make sense?
Does it even matter?
The movie is split into three acts, the first of which introduces the audience to Evelyn and her family. There’s Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), Evelyn’s goofy and affable husband, who long ago captured Evelyn’s heart in China and persuaded her to emigrate to the United States.
The American Dream hasn’t exactly worked out for Evelyn, who’s become embittered and catankerous. The family’s business is failing, and the IRS has issued an audit. In a perfect storm of circumstances, Evelyn will have to defend her business practices against the United States government, trick her father Gong Gong (James Hong) into thinking that all is well by throwing a successful company party, and keep her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) from introducing grandpa to her girlfriend Becky (Tallie Medel), all in the same day.
Things get increasingly and incredibly complicated when her husband’s body is taken over by another version of himself from the Alpha Universe, the first dimension to connect to the other realities of the multiverse. Alpha Waymond has come with a message: This dimension’s version of Evelyn is the only one who can save the multiverse from an almost unstoppable force — her daughter.
To do that, Evelyn will have to use a set of wireless earpieces and a convoluted way of connecting to her alternate selves. With a random action and the press of a button, Evelyn can take on aspects she would have developed if she only had the agency. There’s the Evelyn that rejected Waymond and stayed in China who became a martial arts movie star, not totally unlike Yeoh whose real-life images and videos make a cameo.
There’s a version of herself who was blinded and became a world-class singer and yet another version who works as a teppanyaki chef competing with a rival whose abilities are unparalleled and inexplicable.
There are also alternate versions of the alternate versions — the version of the martial artist who suffered a potentially career-ending injury puts Quentin Tarantino’s Kiddo from Kill Bill to shame with her one-inch finger pokes powerful enough to send opponents into aerials.
Evelyn will need every version of herself to stop Tupaki, a being who has somehow connected herself to every version of herself in all of the dimensions all at once without any fancy devices. Being able to live every experience simultaneously has left Tupaki with ennui. She has abandoned all of her hopes, dreams, and ambitions into a singularity that takes its form in the shape of a sesame-seed encrusted black bagel that will tear apart all of existence.
It’s appropriately basic — is there a piece of bread more boring than a plain bagel?
Everything means everything in this movie, and the foundation of the story is laid down with the precision and urgency of a Christopher Nolan movie. After she gets the hang of gaining her alternates’ memories and abilities, Evelyn uses them to work through each situation with effective and/or hilarious results.
It gives Yeoh — already a legend — so much to work with, and it’s the most demanding role of her career, which means something for an actress who’s done her own death-defying stunts. In Everything, she does it all — the physical, dramatic, and comedic — and in quick succession. The way she takes on aspects like a chameleon is a sight unto itself, and this movie is incontrovertible proof that she’s top-tier.
Quan, who made a splash in the 80’s and took a long break from acting in the 00’s, absolutely rocks. The various Waymonds are characters in and of themselves, and Quan is in total command for whatever the story throws at him. He’s stoic and strong as the Wong Kar Wai Waymond who wonders what could have been if Evelyn hadn’t turned him down.
His Alpha Waymond is a physical beast taking on a squad of security officers with nothing but a fanny pack and a few aquarium rocks, and his current dimension self is a bit Forrest with more gumption — he initiates divorce proceedings against Evelyn in a last-ditch attempt to save the marriage. It’s the movie version of A Great Big World’s song Say Something, and through it all, Waymond is the movie’s anchor whose weapon of choice, in contrast to Evelyn’s downward spiral into ugliness and detachment, is literally love.
Though there is a lot of exposition in the film, the way it’s delivered is a masterclass in storytelling. Plot points are explained as quickly and concisely as possible. Visuals and action reinforce the concepts, and what can’t be completely explained is left entrusted to the audience to feel.
And once everything has been explained, the runway is cleared for a full and exhiliarating take-off that sends the last half of this movie into the stratosphere.
Everything Everywhere All at Once is a showcase on the impace of cinema. Through sight and sound, a movie can take a story about people looking for validation and elevate it to blistering heights. The Daniels treat every frame and scene in Everything as a canvas to create astonishing scenes of depth while also referencing movies and pop culture to pen a love letter to the industry.
A movie like this deserves a deep dive and multiple watchings. One of the things that has kept my mind awake at night is the amount of foreshadowing in the beginning of the movie. As the IRS auditor Deidre (Jamie Lee Curtis) asks Evelyn about the receipts she’s claimed as business expenses, it’s apparent that each of those purchases represents a dream that never came into fruition for this dimension’s Evelyn.
It makes me think of all the different branches of my own life and what could have been. What if I didn’t chip my front tooth, what if my car didn’t slide in the rain, what if I didn’t fail out of high school — whatever I did and didn’t do has led me to now, which is all I have.
Sometimes, we want our cake and to eat it too. Maybe that’s what gives the present time so much meaning and worth. Each step is a ripple with consequences, and though we’re so limited, we are so very, very powerful.
Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)
Directed by: Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
Screenplay by: Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
Starring: Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, Ke huy Quan, James Hong, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tallie Medel, Jenny Slate, Harry Shum Jr, and Biff Wiff