Normally I try to put out a review within 24-48 hours of seeing a movie. Sometimes my schedule gets in the way, but more often than not, I want to critique something while it’s still fresh in my mind. That was not possible in this case. It’s not that Everything Everywhere All at Once didn’t leave an impression. Quite the opposite, in fact. I saw this movie last Sunday, and honestly I’ve needed the last four days just to process it and come up with ways to describe it without giving crucial details away.
Because this is a film that truly has to be seen to be believed. It is an absolute smorgasbord for the eyes, a sensory overload that bombards you with some of the most batshit silly imagery you’re likely to see in any movie, and it amazingly never once feels needlessly contrived or gratuitous. This is the type of film that should serve as a thesis statement for what cinema is truly capable of.
At its most basic, this is an action comedy with a multiverse angle. We’ve seen these before, usually from the likes of Marvel, and we’re about to get another one with next month’s Doctor Strange sequel. But to reduce this actual marvel to such bare terms would almost be insulting. This is something beyond anything I’ve ever seen.
Michelle Yeoh, Certified Badass (says so right on her business card) stars as Evelyn Wang, a Chinese immigrant living above and running a laundromat with her husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan, aka Jonathan Ke Quan; yeah, fucking SHORT ROUND!). The pair have a daughter, Joy (relative newcomer Stephanie Hsu in what should be a star-making role), who is resentful of her family’s inability to accept her girlfriend, Becky (Tallie Medel), particularly her grandfather (James Hong). Evelyn and Waymond are experiencing marital difficulties, and on top of all the other stressors in her life (including an annoying customer played perfectly by Jenny Slate), Evelyn is trying to throw a Chinese New Year party on the same day that she’s being audited by the IRS. She and Waymond begin the film trying to gather all the necessary receipts and paperwork to avoid severe penalties at the hands of their agent, Deirdre Beaubeirdre (character’s actual name), played by a wonderfully game Jamie Lee Curtis.
On the way to the IRS building, Waymond completely changes his mannerisms, freezing time and altering Evelyn’s actions. He explains that multiverses exist, and that his world – dubbed the Alpha Universe because they were the first to discover other universes – has technology that allows him to essentially link with other versions of himself and jump into their lives. The same is true for Evelyn, who is dead in his version of reality, but our Evelyn is desperately needed in the fight against an evil figure called Jobu Tupacki, who has the ability to destroy all of existence. As such, Evelyn is thrust from her mundane life into limitless possibilities in this all-important battle for survival.
That’s the safest way I can describe this movie’s plot without spoiling anything, and it barely scratches the surface. As Evelyn begins mastering this linking ability – which requires both concentration and super weird physical actions to initiate – she’s able to see how her life might have turned out if she had made different choices, from the normal to the intriguing (working at a hibachi restaurant where she’s rivals with another chef played by Harry Shum, Jr. from Glee), to the celebrity (essentially Yeoh’s real life under Evelyn’s name). All these looks are fascinating, and they serve a great narrative purpose. But again, it’s just a tiny speck of all the delightful madness going on.
This is because the execution is nothing short of astounding. The fight scenes are gorgeously choreographed, with minimal cutting, and when they do make an edit, it’s in service to a larger joke or incredible stunt work. It’s rare when I single out a particular tech worker, but editor Paul Rogers does something truly spectacular here. He has to maintain this razor-thin line between purposeful hilarity and superfluous parody, all while letting this amazing cast show off their martial arts skills, Yeoh most of all. It boggles the mind how expertly it’s all laid out, and just how hysterical it all can be at times.
This is sort of in keeping with the motif of the film’s co-directors, Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, collectively known as “Daniels” in the credits. Their previous works include the underrated Swiss Army Man, as well as the music videos for “Simple Song” by the Shins and DJ Snake’s “Turn Down for What.” Even if you’re not a fan of those particular tracks (I love the former but can’t stand the latter, for example), the accompanying videos are masterworks of time manipulation combined with lightly controlled chaos in the visuals. As much as I don’t like EDM or DJs in general, watching the “Turn Down” video, where people fall from one floor of an apartment building to another while getting increasingly and uncontrollably horny, is just incredibly fun to watch.
If you haven’t seen those videos, it’s a good idea to watch them before you see the movie, because they’re both good primers for the Daniels’ visual style. Nothing is off the table in these elaborately bonkers set pieces. Anything and everything can be a weapon, and the skill with which they’re deployed is both inspired and gut-busting. I mean, when I can say with absolute certainty that a universe where people have hot dogs for fingers doesn’t even crack the top 10 strangest things in this movie, you know you’re on a fucking trip! And this is one for the ages.
You will laugh your ass off for pretty much the entirety of the first two hours of this film, pausing only briefly to catch your breath while your jaw drops at the immaculate action scenes. And then, in the most unexpected of turns, you will spend the final 20 minutes getting all of the feels. There is something truly unique about a movie that almost makes me cry laughing for the bulk of its runtime, and then almost makes me cry from pure emotion by the end. I can honestly say I’ve never experienced anything like that in a movie before, and I’d wager I’ve seen upwards of 2,000 in my nearly four decades on this planet.
This is the sort of film that comes along once in a very great while. The cast is perfect. The visuals are perfect. The humor is something beyond reason. The technical elements are absolutely on point. The costuming and hair for one of the main characters is unbelievably creative. Even the experimental score by Son Lux gets stuck in your head as you’re trying to parse the cacophony of sound and light going on in front of your face. This is what I’m talking about when I constantly bitch that we need new and original ideas. Everything Everywhere All at Once is the type of film that the movie-going experience was made for. This is not a movie you see. This is one you live. This is one you truly experience. So it’s no surprise when I say that, without any doubt, this is the best movie of the year so far.
Join the conversation in the comments below! What film should I review next? How weird was the weirdest film you’ve ever seen? What’s the strangest thing you think could be used as a weapon? Let me know! I’ll bet this movie tops it!