Everything, Everywhere All at Once stars Michelle Yeoh and is written and directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. While possibly inspired by The Matrix, Kung Fu Hustle and the rip-roaring success of Parasite, it conjures up an imaginative, inventive and experimental action-adventure anchored by heartfelt and soulful human drama.
The rapturous film finds Evelyn an aging Chinese immigrant working at her family-owned laundromat where she and her Mr. Nice Guy husband Waymond wile away the hours of their mundane existence. Struggling to buffer her daughter and her girlfriend with the remnants of her father’s old world prejudices, she finds the laundromat on the brink of collapse and at the mercy of an officious IRS auditor.
This plot line may sound like a pretty mediocre indie kitchen sink drama exploring the hardships, growing pains and constant pressures associated with being an immigrant. However, as Parasite and many elevated horrors have demonstrated so beautifully and elegantly, these kinds of foundational dramatic situations have a way of escalating and morphing into something spectacular and wilder than you can possibly imagine.
Just as one’s starting to feel the walls of this well-crafted yet modest production, hints start dropping like bombs. A few blips on the laundromat’s CCTV serve as a precursor to an insane adventure that seems intent on trying to dwarf every preceding scene. Just like ‘Alice in Wonderland’, Evelyn finds herself in a state of disbelief before she finally caves into the madness and tumbles down the rabbit hole.
Finding a way to essentially channel hop between parallel dimensions and lives, Evelyn attempts to tap into a fractious universal consciousness in a bid to rescue her daughter, marriage, family and by extension the world. This is the surreal paradigm that is Everything, Everywhere All at Once, divided disproportionately into three chapters titled “Everything”, “Everywhere” and “All at Once”. The nuttiness begins at an IRS meeting where the Wang family discover their daily grind laundromat may be in desperate trouble as a tax crisis looms.
“What fresh hell is this?”
Playing Evelyn without any shred of doubt is Michelle Yeoh whose multi-faceted performance finds variations of her character, switching dimensions, “downloading” various abilities, flip-flopping between genres and trying to do everything, everywhere all at once. Yeoh carries the emotional core of this eclectic and free-spirited adventure, delivering a determined, resistant and resonant lead performance of many shades.
If Yeoh is the heart, she’s supported by Stephanie Hsu as the mind and Ke Huy Quan as the soul. As Joy, Hsu captures the teenage angst of a misunderstood daughter whose parents are outmoded killjoys. Often deadpan, her character’s hurt leaks through as her protective shell and growing distance obscures their already strained mother-daughter relationship.
Ke Huy Quan is portrayed as a present day wimp. Seemingly ineffectual and weak, his warrior alter-ego loosely modelled on all things Jackie Chan comes to the fore as his real superpower rises up. As if the lead trio wasn’t enough, James Hong and Jamie Lee Curtis add their star power behind the production with iconic and memorable supporting character performances.
While Everything, Everywhere All at Once starts off slow, you get to a point where you actually long for some sluggish drama. After falling down the rabbit hole, there’s no going back as Evelyn is awakened to find a series of doors with no option to return to blissful ignorance. Transitioning into strobe-like montage sequences and moving at a relentless pace, the whirlwind edit and eye-popping visuals keep you transfixed.
It’s incredible to think that the visual effects artistry was derived by a small core of nine friends, including the directors, with no formal VFX school training who learned everything through online courses. While Everything, Everywhere All at Once is modest, maintaining a realness through its sets and costume, it captures an otherworldliness and shape-shifting quality without distraction thanks to its homegrown VFX.
“No, this is what I… O… U.”
Everything, Everywhere All at Once is right up there with The Lego Movie, Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse, Kung Fu Hustle, The Matrix and Mad Max: Fury Road for sensory bombardment, maddening intensity, visual audacity and sheer brilliance. The aforementioned films serve as a litmus test to measure your chance of enjoying this imaginative action-adventure in all its fullness.
Everything, Everywhere All at Once borrows quite liberally from The Matrix, which also used an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ narrative structure. It’s far from a sweded Matrix and more of a spin-off in spite of distinct similarities, creating something dazzlingly ambitious and original in its own rite. Everything, Everywhere All at Once also echoes some of the visual humour, pure nuttiness and tonal dexterity of Kung Fu Hustle.
As you may have already picked up, this multi-genre multiverse mind-bender is intense, spectacular and even overwhelming. The blend of livewire performances, martial arts, visual effects, zippy editing, quick pacing and story-within-a-story layering can make the cinematic experience awe-inspiring to excessive. It’s designed to be relentless and captivating, probably enough to keep a cat entertained for the whole 2 hour duration.
By the time the first hour rolls around, you’ve consumed enough story and eye candy for a feature film twice as long. While Everything, Everywhere All at Once does find its storytelling depth playing catch up with the explosive visuals on a few occasions, it enters a dimension of such visual beauty and emotional gravity in its closing stages that all’s forgiven.
Summoning up a myriad of emotion and entertainment in transporting us through its many stages and parallel lives at high speed, we come to realise that as universal as it is in its world-building, its core truths dial back to its human essence. The climactic finish elevates it from the realm of a pure popcorn rollercoaster of the highest order into something deeply moving and special.
The Daniels blend heart, mind and soul in a way that taps into timeless human needs and desires. Everything, Everywhere All at Once’s wacky sense of humour unnecessarily incorporates sex toys into the comedy, borrows elements from other films quite liberally, experiments with the welcome relief of a literal rock dimension and stretches the bounds of its audience’s attention span to breaking point, yet there’s no denying this film’s ability to transcend the proverbial celluloid.
Catching you off guard on several occasions, capturing the pure passion of its vision, compelled by a game cast, summiting the lofty heights of its own ambition and finding unbridled joy, goofy laughter and heartfelt verve in its buffet of intense entertainment – it’s one of those rare filmmaking moments that borders on miraculous. In spite of its flaws, Everything, Everywhere All at Once works so hard to please and present its mesmerising insanity in a pleasing way that you can’t help but appreciate everything, everywhere all at once.
The bottom line: Rapturous