I have been thinking of the words to describe this film, if not Film Of The Year. Everything Everywhere All At Once is a breathtaking spectacle, an exemplary display of independent filmmaking, and an adventure that traverses through genres. It is a film about a Chinese-American family, a drama that latches onto the intricacies of their relationship. It is undoubtedly comedic, finely sliced apart from the existential and philosophical prose of the film. Combined with spells of action and a foundation of sci-fi, this film is nothing short of a masterpiece. The western film industry in recent years has been more receptive to centring Asian characters and stories in films.
Due to the sore lack of representation it is groundbreaking when it comes to roles, or producing anything that gains an insight to many Asian diaspora realities, and for those that need it presenting a way to express difficult conversations. Film is such an immense device to learn from, and Everything Everywhere All At Once is a great teacher.
Written and directed by the famed filmmaking duo the Daniel’s (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) Everything Everywhere All At Once follows Evelyn Quan Wang (Michelle Yeoh) in her day in the life of being a discontented laundromat owner. Dissected into three parts, the first being Everything, the film goes on to absorb everything that builds the stage where Everlyn is overwhelmed. She is troubled by the imposition of a visiting strict and traditional Father (James Hong), simply referred to as Gong Gong (Cantonese for Grandfather/Father in Law), while juggling a contentious relationship with her lesbian daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu). Joy yearns for her Mother’s approval, or rather attention, to address the elephant in the room often to no avail. Everlyn’s focus is delegated to the pressures of mundane work, taxes, a Father she must care for, and a barren lovelife with a frustrating happy go lucky husband in Waymond (Ke Huy Quan). In the midst of this burgeoning madness, Evelyn is approached by Alpha Waymond, a version of her husband from another Universe, the Alphaverse, where they created technology that allows them to temporarily access the minds of their alternative selves in another. He alerts her of an impending danger, Jobu Tupaki – the most dangerous multiversal being hellbent on destroying reality. When combined with the real lives of our Evelyn, Waymond, Joy and Gong Gong – we are presented with a wonderful, extravagant, investigation into the variation of possibilities evident in this multiverse.
The film begins with a beautiful shot of the Wang’s, bouncing with joy, pictured in a round mirror that sits between a gathering of miscellaneous household objects on a high shelf. We all have those corners in the home, very diasporic. The TV light tinting their faces and dimming the tone of home, it all falls deaf in what I assumed to be the next morning as the pressure of work and life unfolds. The detail of these opening scenes is atomic, rich in colour and lighting. It sets the tone for how the film intends to proceed. I love how it emboldens those little objects and the moment of collective joy in the mirror. It builds the reality of these characters starting with the most important note; happiness. The next day unravels that joy, framed as if plucked from the best times, showing Evelyn struggle with the running of the laundromat. Customers’ clothes have gone missing, the wrong paint is used to do the walls, a machine is faulty, and her family are bothersome. This next scene masterfully entalges a trinity of issues that trouble Evelyn: her tormented relationship with her Father, entertained by a cultural demand. A relationship with her daughter divided by generational and such cultural differences, an all too familiar tale for diaspora children. Lastly, a seemingly loveless marriage predicated on a lowly laundromat and a lack of having at their dreams. These themes join hands, and gradually expand into a cluster of issues. Evelyn battles with the idea of what if, the alternative choices and countless realities in which life didn’t turn out the way it did. In the same breath, Joy’s disconnect is not merely one of a troubled relationship with family – but one with life itself.
In all, the characters seem to be mystified by the potency of what if. Gong Gong never shies away from being blunt about his daughter he critiques at every moment. Everlyn spacing out for moments, wondering about a different life where she feels fulfilled. Joy gazing into the depths of nothingness, the moody darkness of dark clothes in the dryer capturing the abyss. Waymond, a people pleaser, infected by the disappointment Everlyn presence sheds. The main plot could be seen as Evelyn’s relationship with Joy, which like with many diasporic parental relationships can be overshadowed by a hierarchy of importance, as both are led through a journey that makes them question their foundations and the nature of their relationships. But I feel the plot encompasses everything, considerate of all the main characters’ feelings and the meaning behind them. The nihilistic nature of Everything Everywhere All At Once transforms everyday issues through the vastness of the multiverse in such a splendid manner – it is near perfect. My heart warmed, I laughed, my eyes watered, I gasped, winced, and at parts would sink at the relatability of the film.
The acting is tremendous, a perfectly pieced together cast. A spread of legendary actors and unsung talent forged together to fulfil this film. Everylyn and Michelle Yeoh were a match made in Heaven. Her grand career includes starring in films like Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2001) and recently the game-changing Crazy Rich Asians (2018). Despite her legacy, a film career spanning almost 4 decades, in an interview with GQ Michelle stated this was the role she was waiting for. In it, she cries out of sheer appreciation of the film and role. It encompasses a range that allowed her to embrace her acting skills in full. It demands emotional investment, a display of comedic spiel, of course her brilliance with martial arts, but also a vulnerability by the fact she is simply a Mother in this universe. Michelle also hailed the importance of the story, the representation through a story that can allow the actors to encompass it all. Coincidentally, representation is also the reason for the return of Ke Huy Quan to acting.
The actor in his early years featured in a few iconic films, including Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom (1984) and The Goonies (1985). In an interview with Jimmy Fallon, Ke brought to attention how tough the industry was to find roles as an Asian man as the industry rarely had suitable roles. After a while, calls for the actor stopped calling. Enough so that Ke called it quits, hanging up his acting boots until he was reinvigorated by watching Crazy Rich Asians. It was such an inviting and touching film that it rekindled Ke’s passion to act. He called up a friend who’s an agent and Everything Everywhere All At Once came to his attention. Originally, the Daniels did want Jackie Chan to fulfil this role – but opted for Ke, as he added another dimension to Waymond as a character. He is such a lovely human being, one that by his behaviour and approach made me want to become a better person. Ke is an outstanding actor, very much instrumental to the film being incredible. It is so baffling that he hasn’t had the opportunity to display such a wonderful skill. Jamie Lee Curtis, who plays Deidre the hard-faced auditor who is auditing their taxes, commended him on his magnificence and the pleasure in seeing Ke perform acknowledging a gift that deserves to be paraded. Jamie herself is also another legendary actor. She is almost unrecognisable, and dons the aura of bully surfing on the powers of law. James Hong, the last legendary actor I’ll mention. He is fascinating, believable, and also expresses an understanding of why this character is so important. I won’t pretend to have seen a spread of his work, but writing this to discover he was the voice behind one of the most iconic villains in cartoon history, Daolon Wong in Jackie Chan Adventures, was so cool. Awkwafina was touted to play Joy, but an engrossing audition from Stephanie Hsu thankfully changed their minds. She was ethereal, absolutely owned her role. Alongside a star-studded cast, she shines brightly as they do. Also, her style? She will become a fashion icon through this role alone.
I don’t want to spoil this film, I believe everyone should stop whatever they’re doing and book it right now. Although, I do want to add context to how great it is. The multiverse is a concept investigated through recent comic book films and TV. Mostly, of course, in the MCU and DC. There is a lot to fantasise about when considering the enormity of their archives. Decades if not a century of content to dissect, elect and shoot with cash injections from some of the biggest media conglomerates in the world. A demand in knowing whatever is made will be received by generations of fans, and more, tied to their franchises. The Daniels started researching the concept of the multiverse in 2010, after being exposed to modal realism in the film Sherman’s March. Unfortunately, Spiderman Into The Spider Verse, other MCU films and shows, plus Rick & Morty had already explored the idea by the time it was ready.
Although they are wonderful films and TV shows, a debatable truer and or more relatable sense of cinema is questionable. I say that because it is incredibly hard to create a film like Everything Everywhere All At Once independently, with the resources the filmmakers used, and the potency of the film’s reception. For example, the video VFX was put together by 5 people. Just 5! That is insane for the sheer brilliance of the VFX throughout the film, from start to finish. The transitions and panning of the camera in many shots are magical. The ingenuity is strong, hilarious, and so captivating. The filming reminded me of a compilation of the best short films I have ever seen. So much attention to detail, and every resource exhausted to uplift it, this is the type of film you need to rewatch many times to appreciate the extent of it all. The scene of Evelyn being whisked into another Universe is actually a shot of Michelle Yeoh acting in slow motion, rolled backwards on a chair with a green screen video and edits composed through days of recording and walking the streets of New York by Daniel Kwan. The shifting of the frame to entertain wider action scenes was so well done. The seamless universal blending had my eyes fixed on the multitude of things occurring all at once. It was an adventure in filmmaking, and the best multiversal film I have seen. I expect this to win the best awards this year, and motivate more independent filmmakers to create from a vantage point of representation intensified by the factors of genre.
Go and support this film, watch it in cinema, take it in its entirety. It deserves it, and will not disappoint.