TL;DR – You may have been told how wild this film is, but trust me, whoever was talking to you was completely underselling it.
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
Disclosure – I paid to see this film
Everything Everywhere All at Once Review –
The word surreal gets thrown around quite a bit and usually means something that might be a bit cerebral or weird or maybe both. But for something to be genuinely surreal, it needs to challenge the nature of reality, to contest the very bedrock we live our lives on. Films will often dip their toes into the surreal, but every now and again, a film will dive in headfirst. Today, we are looking at just such a film that just might nail everything it sets out to do.
So to set the scene, in a city in America, Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) lives above the laundromat that she runs with her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan). Things are pretty stressful for Evelyn at the moment. The IRS is auditing the business. She is trying to put together a party for he estranged father, Gong Gong (James Hong), she is feuding with her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu), and Waymond is about to drop divorce papers on her. As they arrive at the IRS to be audited by Deirdre Beaubeirdra (Jamie Lee Curtis), Waymond suddenly changes into a completely different person. He declares that Evelyn is in trouble because a force from another universe is hunting her down, and it just might have found its prey, and that is when the alarms go off.
Now, before I dive into the review proper, I feel that it is best to go into this film with as little knowledge as possible. So let me give you the spoiler-free elevator pitch. Everything Everywhere All at Once stars Michelle Yeoh in what might be her best performance to date [which, given her filmography, is saying something] in a comedic/action film about fracturing realities that is both filled with crude humour and yet also a profound heart. No matter what you have heard, this film is wilder than that.
Everything Everywhere All at Once is a film that works on multiple different levels, even before we jump into the multiverse shenanigans. The first level is the sheer power of the performances on offer. All of the main cast, including Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, James Hong & Jamie Lee Curtis, are pulling at least double duty in this film. This means playing characters that are often polar opposites from each other and sometimes shifting from one extreme to another in a second space. Their ability to jump back and forth creates an energy to every performance because you are not sure what will come around the corner next. Every character embraces this chaos and gives their all, which makes what you see in the story work as well as it does. This is good because when you think you know what sort of chaos this film will be dealing with, the film will take a 90-degree lurch in a different direction.
Any discussion of characters and this film will lead us to discuss the central character and the person having to pull the most characters, the excellent Michelle Yeoh. In this film, she might give Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany a run for her money in how many realised and unique characters she plays and merges together throughout the runtime. Indeed, we probably won’t know just how many characters she plays until the digital release when people can scrub through the film frame by frame. The way she gives her all to every role helps make some of the more absurd elements lands better than they would not have otherwise done. Every character’s interaction is a pleasure to watch, even when they are dealing with some hard truths. Michelle and Stephanie make an electric pair when they are paying off each other, creating a solid core for the rest of the film.
Then there is the action, which Michelle Yeoh is well known for. I feel these days that a lot of action is there just for the sake of having some action. This is not an issue in itself but does lead to unimaginative action set pieces going through the motions. Here, unimaginative is the last word I would use. Indeed, there are some action set pieces here that I am sure have never been put to screen before, or at least not how they did it here. To give you exactly one example, and only one. At some point in the film, Jenny Slate arrives and attacks Michelle Yeoh with her Pomeranian on a lead as if it was a bolas or rope dart. Every fight is smooth in its execution and has story beet moments that help you understand something about the plot or a character. Add to this an in-universe need to engage in questionable behaviour to ‘verse-jump’ and get you moments that had audience members audibly gasp in the cinemas. Okay, it was me who was gasping. All of this, if built with set and costume design that amplifies every moment and a musical score that hits the right discordant note.
While the cast is solid, the action is fun, and the multiverse aspects are zanier than you would expect. At the heart of what makes this film work is a juxtaposition of the absurd with and emotional core of reality. However, before we move on, even though I mentioned that you should see the film as blind as possible, you might want to skip this paragraph if you have not seen the film and are still reading. As Everything Everywhere All at Once dives into its more chaotic elements, like an ‘everything’ bagel and maybe the most absurd homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey that has ever happened. These more absurd elements are always linked in with an actual grounded emotional reality. Like how Evelyn feels that her life and marriage has panned out or how Waymond has a strength that Evelyn does not understand. The most profound is how the more vibrant parts of the film directly comment on Evelyn and Joy’s relationship. Without this focus, the film loses the core that it needs, loses its link to reality, and, more importantly, it would have lost the impact that the ending needs to work.
In the end, do we recommend Everything Everywhere All at Once? Absolutely. To be fair, this is a film that engages with some elements and humour that is not going to be to everyone’s taste. Also, the sheer weight of the multiverse might be understandable a bit too much for people. But for me, this is a film that had everything I wanted. Powerful performances, a story that takes risks, and all bound up in a presentation that soared. If you liked Everything Everywhere All at Once, we would recommend Space Sweepers to you.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Everything Everywhere All at Once
Directed by – Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinert
Written by – Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinert
Music by – Son Lux
Cinematography by – Larkin Seiple
Edited by – Paul Rogers
Production/Distribution Companies – AGBO, Ley Line Entertainment, IAC Films, Year of the Rat, A24 & Roadshow Pictures
Starring – Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, James Hong, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tallie Medel, Jenny Slate, Harry Shum Jr., Biff Wiff, Sunita Mani, Aaron Lazar, Audrey Wasilewski, Daniel Scheinert, Brian Le, Andy Le, Narayana Cabral, Chelsey Goldsmith, Anthony Molinari, Dan Brown, Craig Henningsen & Randy Newman
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A; Germany: 12; New Zealand: na; United Kingdom: na; United States: R