The stranglehold distinctly average comic book film franchises have on popular movie culture is as depressing as it is predictable. Yet, every so often, an action film comes along that’s everything the ten millionth Avengers film in three years isn’t: pulsating, funny, and totally unique. Everything Everywhere All at Once is one of these films.
Michelle Yeoh stars as Evelyn Wong, a seemingly bog-standard Chinese immigrant mother, complete with a harsh exterior, an inability to compliment her child, and a small business. Her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) loves her and wants to be assured she feels the same. All the while, Evelyn’s relationship with daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) hangs by a thread. We enter the film’s world on a particularly stressful day, as Evelyn is throwing her judgmental father Gong Gong (James Hong) a party, but also has to go to the IRS for an audit meeting. However, all is not well in the world(s), and by the hour-mark we are jumping between universes, taking in Evelyn as a Kung-Fu superstar before entering a world where humans have hotdogs for fingers. And that’s before we mention the butt plug scene.
While there’s no doubt this is an action and Sci-Fi film, the emotional core is about family, and particularly Asian immigrant family dynamics. And, in spite of all the incredible humour, astounding special effects, and kick-ass fight scenes that hark back to Yeoh’s iconic performance in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, we delve deep enough into the relationships between Evelyn and her family that a scene with nothing but two boulders in an uninhabited world will make you laugh so hard you can’t breathe, before bringing you to tears. Again – you’ll see.
The performances are all flawless, although Yeoh is particularly excellent. Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (known as the Daniels) have written and directed the script to perfection. The concept could have gotten messy, but at no point is the audience confused, nor does the pacing slip. The only slight issue with Everything Everywhere All at Once is that the conclusion veers towards the overly sentimental, but frankly by that point the film has more than earned that right.
Despite its relatively low budget the movie is a sensory smorgasbord. While watching you can sense the influences of everything from Rick and Morty to The Matrix to classic Manga like Dragon Ball Z in the film’s aesthetics and how it plays out. It really is impossible to do justice to how inventive, entertaining, and hilarious this film is in such a short review, or even a longer one. And that’s before discussing the way Everything Everywhere All at Once plays with the chosen one trope, reminding us that Walt Whitman’s pronouncement ‘I contain multitudes’ applies to the middle-aged Asian American menial worker as much as rich white dudes with chiseled abs.
For all its laughs, great fight sequences, and innovativeness, this is the true magic of Everything Everywhere All at Once. It packs in concepts like a Russian Nesting Doll, dealing with everything from interfamilial relationships to racism to existentialism, without rubbing it in your face or losing entertainment value. And, despite its randomness at points, everything fits together perfectly, like a work of art you need to step back from to fully appreciate. If you want to feel the full gambit of emotions and see something truly astounding, then I can’t recommend this film enough (I know I’m already looking forward to my first rewatch). If there’s any justice in the world, the film will rack up the award nominations, but even if it doesn’t, it’s nice to think there’s a universe somewhere that Everything Everywhere All at Once will get the plaudits it truly deserves.
Sandeep is a writer based in London. He recently completed his Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Edinburgh and was longlisted for the Alpine Fellowship Writing Prize 2021. He loves all kinds of beer, from cheap lagers to stouts so dark they would fight for Sauron.