'Everything Everywhere All At Once' Is the Wildest Movie of the Year
Michelle Yeoh kicks ass through many realities to save the multiverse.
Everything Everywhere All At Once is as overwhelming as its title suggests. The new feature from the directors known as The Daniels—a.k.a. Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheiner, the guys who made the Daniel Radcliffe-as-a-farting-corpse movie Swiss Army Man—is an intentionally overstuffed trip through the multiverse where Michelle Yeoh plays multiple versions of Evelyn Wang in a tour-de-force performance that uses all of the tools in her considerable arsenal. It's a film that comes at you a mile a minute for more than two hours with funhouse mirror pop culture references, zany moments, goofy costumes, and blistering action. But beneath all of the flash and noise, there's a deeply sweet story about the Chinese immigrant experience and the way mothers project their own burdens on their daughters.
When the movie opens, Evelyn is an exhausted wife and mother who runs a laundromat. She is preparing for the twin stresses of being audited by the IRS and a Chinese New Year party attended by her wheelchair-ridden father who has flown in from her home country for the occasion. The first act is an anxious swirl of paperwork and panic. Evelyn ignores the pleas of her kind husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), and the wishes of her daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu), who wants to introduce her grandfather (James Hong) to her longtime girlfriend. Yeoh's weariness is apparent on her face as Evelyn scurries around her domain. In an effort to keep everything under control, she invariably disappoints all of the people closest to her. Waymond is trying to serve her divorce papers; Joy cries in her car.
But then, in the elevator on the way to meet with a surly auditor (Jamie Lee Curtis in a purposefully devastating wig), Waymond transforms. Suddenly, the meek Waymond Evelyn knows snaps into focus, gives her an earpiece, and introduces her to the concept of the multiverse. This is a Waymond from a different version of reality who has been traversing time and space to find this Evelyn, the only Evelyn that can save the world from an evil force who goes by the name Jobu Tobacky. To fight off Jobu and her acolytes, Evelyn must "verse-jump" by doing something bizarre, like eat a stick of chapstick or chug orange soda, to take on the powers of other Evelyns. When Evelyn assumes the skills of her many selves, she also gets a glimpse of what their lives might have been like, answering questions like who she might have become if she didn't go to America with Waymond or if she lived in a world where all people had hot dog fingers.
The extreme goofiness by Evelyn's adventure is balanced by the meat of the story The Daniels are telling. As Evelyn tries to evade Jobu's forces, she also has to consider the lives she could have led, ones where she didn't have the specific trials of being a working class immigrant in the United States. At the same time, she must decide how much of her actual life she wants to protect. Does it all mean nothing? Or everything?
It's a showcase for Yeoh, who is both doing transformative work and riffing on her icon status. The first Evelyn we meet—dowdy, tired—is lured by the glamor of the timeline where she's a kung fu movie star with a career not unlike Yeoh's. (The Daniels even include a shot from what is very clearly the Crazy Rich Asians red carpet.) And Yeoh is only half of the equation.
Equally quintessential is the work of Ke Huy Quan, best known for his roles as a child actor in The Goonies and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. In one moment, Waymond is Evelyn's sweet, unassuming husband; in another, he's a sex symbol out of a Wong Kar Wai movie. In casting Quan, whose most famous roles are laced with insidious '80s Asian stereotyping, The Daniels further comment on and subvert expectations, offering not just an existential head trip but a meta commentary on the kinds of parts audiences expect Asian actors to play, on screen and in society. Quan and Yeoh are both magnificent—and appear to be having the time of their lives—slipping in and out of versions of their characters, and Hsu, a Broadway star making a huge impact in her first significant film role, matches their energy. (To say too much about her character would be a spoiler.)
The Daniels, who come from the world of music videos, lean into a stylistic maximalism that makes it feel as if confetti is popping out of the screen as Evelyn is flung between personas, fighting nonstop all the way. At nearly two and a half hours long, Everything Everywhere All at Once can occasionally feel relentless, but the directors do pause for the emotional beats that give the chaos weight. The noise is part of the experience, but the sheer creativity is the reward.