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Except for death, taxes, and perhaps the never-ending task of doing laundry, few things in life are certain. At least, that’s where the characters in writer/directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s new film “Everything Everywhere All at Once” find themselves at first. That is, until they embark on an emotional, philosophical, and deeply strange journey through the looking glass into the multiverse, where they discover metaphysical wisdom.
Michelle Yeoh gives a virtuoso performance as Evelyn Wang, the tired owner of a laundromat under IRS investigation, in this love letter to genre cinema. We first see her having fun with her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) and their daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu). We see their happy faces reflected in a mirror on the wall of their living room. Evelyn’s smile fades as the camera zooms through the mirror, now seated at a table strewn with business receipts. She’s preparing for a meeting with an auditor while also attempting to prepare food for a Chinese New Year party that will live up to her visiting father Gong Gong’s high standards (James Hong, Wiley as ever).
Everything Everywhere All At Once Quiz
In addition to her father’s visit and the tax audit, Evelyn’s sullen daughter Joy wishes to bring her girlfriend Becky (Tallie Medel) to the party, and her husband wishes to discuss the state of their marriage. Just as Evelyn is starting to feel overwhelmed by everything going on in her life, she is visited by another version of Waymond from what he refers to as the Alpha verse. Humans have learned to “verse jump” and are threatened by Jobu Tupaki, an omniverse agent of chaos. Evelyn is soon thrust into a universe-hopping adventure that causes her to question everything she thought she knew about her life, failures, and love for her family. Also, you will find out which character are you in this Everything Everywhere All At Once Quiz.
The majority of the action takes place in an IRS office building in Simi Valley (which had me in stitches as a Californian), where Evelyn must battle IRS agent Diedre (Jamie Lee Curtis, who is having the time of her life), a swarm of security guards, and possibly everyone else she’s ever met. Jason Kisvarday’s production design creates a seemingly endless cubicle-filled office where everything from the blade of a paper trimmer to auditor of the year awards become fair game in a battle to save the universe. Also, you must try to play this quiz.
The breakneck pace of editor Paul Rogers matches the script’s frenetic dialogue, with layers of universes folding into each other while also propelling Evelyn’s internal journey. Match cuts connect the universes seamlessly, while playful cuts emphasize the film’s central comedy.
About the movie
Each universe has its own distinct look and feel, with winking film references ranging from “The Matrix” to “The Fall” to “2001: A Space Odyssey” to “In The Mood For Love” to “Ratatouille.” Michelle Yeoh’s legacy is also present in the film, with loving nods to her Hong Kong action film days and the wuxia classic “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” The fight sequences, choreographed by Andy and Brian Le, have a balletic beauty to them and are wisely shot in wide shots that allow whole bodies to fill the frame.
Yeoh is the film’s anchor, given a role that showcases her diverse talents, from her fine martial arts skills to her superb comic timing to her ability to excavate endless depths of rich human emotion from a glance or a reaction. She is a movie star, and this is a film that recognizes it. Seeing her shine so brightly and clearly having a good time brought tears to my eyes several times.
Aspects of Waymond can be found throughout Quan’s unique career, just as Evelyn draws on Yeoh’s iconography. Evelyn’s nebbish husband has the comic timing of his childhood roles as Data in “The Goonies” and Short Round in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” Alpha’s slick action hero, capable of taking out a group of attackers with a fanny pack, reflects his work as a fight coordinator. Even his time as Wong Kar Wai’s assistant director on “2046” can be found in the universe where he plays the debonair one who got away. Quan handles these variations expertly, bringing pathos to each and serving as a gentle reminder that kindness is powerful.
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