There is a spectacular correlation that exists between cinema and the concept of the multiverse. The latter poses the idea that there isn’t only one reality, but instead an infinite number of them – each of which are unique. It suggests not just that everything is possible, but that everything is real. As an extension of this, one could say that every film ever made isn’t just a fiction, but instead a depiction of events taking place in an alternate universe. Going to a theater, you aren’t watching a screen; you’re gazing through a window.
It’s endlessly fascinating, self-reflexive subject matter, and in recent years it has felt like it was only a matter of time before the film industry embraced it whole-heartedly – particularly because of the evolution of comic book movies (writers and artists at Marvel and DC have been exploring the multiverse for decades). Even more enticing than seeing the sci-fi concept explored in blockbusters, however, is seeing it explored in boundary-free storytelling crafted by the most talented working creatives … and that’s where Everything Everywhere All At Once enters the picture.
For those of us who like our entertainment weird as hell, Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (who collectively go by Daniels) have earned their reputation as two exceptionally exciting voices– from the “Turn Down For What” music video, to their feature debut, Swiss Army Man. Everything Everywhere All At Once is the exact kind of film that you want to see them make at this point in their careers. Not only do they seem to be wielding full creative control, evidenced by both the wild content and the near-two-and-a-half-hour runtime, but the story being told is unlike anything we’re seeing from any other filmmakers today.
Everything Everywhere All At Once is unabashedly bizarre and hilarious, finding wonderful avenues of odd, but it also manages to be a fascinating philosophical work contemplating the meaning of being an imperceptible dot in the spectrum of infinity.
Evelyn Wong (Michelle Yeoh) is a woman who is staring down an unfulfilled life as a senior citizen. She lives in a small apartment above a struggling laundromat that she co-owns with her pushover husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), and she cares for her father Gong Gong (James Hong), who never misses an opportunity to expresses his disappointment in all of her choices. Her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) is gay and wants her family to accept her relationship with her girlfriend Becky (Tallie Medel), but Evelyn hides behind her father’s homophobia as a means of deflecting and disengaging.
As a result of a tax audit, the protagonist has to gather up all of her company’s receipts and go with Waymond and Gong Gong down to the local Internal Revenue Service to meet with an impatient agent (Jamie Lee Curtis) – but in the elevator ride to the proper floor, Waymond undergoes a change. Acting unlike himself, he gives Evelyn a pair of wireless earpieces to put on both of her ears, and a set of instructions that tells her to swap her shoes onto the wrong feet, imagine herself in the janitor’s closet, and press a button on the headset when it turns green.
Following these strange directions ultimately introduces Evelyn to the endless nature of the multiverse and the discovery that every decision she has ever made in her life has resulted in realities where her own life took the alternate courses. She has been called on because she is potentially the only person in any existence who can stop an exceptionally powerful and malicious entity known as Jobu Tupaki from putting an end to literally everything.
Everything Everywhere All At Once is intelligent sci-fi with phenomenal world-building and rules.
There is tremendous fun that can be had with multiverse storytelling, but it’s also loaded with pitfalls – the standout being how remarkably hard it is to wrap one’s mind around the concept of infinity. These are issues that Daniels are able to nimbly avoid with a proper application of rules, though. Obviously this creates an overt need for exposition in the execution, but there isn’t a dry moment in Everything Everywhere All At Once because even the rules are entertaining.
It’s explained that there is an algorithm that allows “verse jumping” via unpredictable and out of character actions. Sometimes this means professing a deep and heartfelt love for a person that is attacking you. Sometimes it means licking a support beam. Sometimes it means jamming an object up your butt. It’s a repeated joke that never misses, but, as weird as it is, it’s an idea also brings a vital bit of order to the chaotic plot.
On top of communicating the logistics, one of Daniels’ greatest triumphs with Everything Everywhere All At Once is its ability to have the editing rocket the audience through multiple realities in the span of a few seconds, and yet you never feel lost or confused about where the movie is. It’s a ride, but you’re safely secured for every twist, jolt, and acceleration the experience has to offer, and that clarity keeps you focused on the amazing things that the film is doing narratively and thematically.
In addition to being incredibly funny, Everything Everywhere All At Once is also insightful and deep.
Gross and whacky as the film may get, one thing it is never is cynical (which is something it very much has in common with Swiss Army Man). Evelyn is selected for the big mission because of her chronic inability to seize real opportunity, and in the vast sea of the infinite there is a looming fear of true insignificance – but what’s grasped is how the hero’s qualities make her unique, and the tremendous value in recognizing the fleeting moments of life that make actual sense.
It’s beautiful, emotional, and inspiring in the face of nihilism and existential dread, and pulls off the exceptional challenge of showcasing the power of love over violence and fear without ever feeling corny or maudlin. Its heart is far too earnest to ever come across as mawkish, and the performances by Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan in particular are too remarkable and emotional to be registered as anything but genuine.
From its impressive (and earned) runtime, to its 50-year-old Asian lead, to its equal balance of English and Chinese dialogue, there isn’t a single choice in Everything Everywhere All At Once that feels safe or ordinary, and in that respect it is a modern marvel. We’re set to see a lot more cinematic exploration of the multiverse in the coming months and years, with the upcoming Doctor Strange sequel, the Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse follow-up, and The Flash solo movie all set to deliver their own interpretations of the science, but Daniels have now set a remarkably high bar for them all to reach for.
NJ native who calls LA home; lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran; endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.
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