‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ is Sublime, Audacious Chaos

If time weren’t a meaningless construct, I might hesitate to declare Everything Everywhere All at Once one of the best films of 2022.

How wonderful it is, then, that the last two-plus years have shattered my concept of days and weeks and months. It doesn’t matter, anyway. I doubt Hollywood has anything coming in the next eight months that could match this film’s wonder. And so, here we are. Four months in, Everything Everywhere All at Once is one of the year’s best films.

The film is built around a reasonable thought experiment: “What if Hollywood weren’t myopic and racist and spent the last quarter-century casting the resplendent Michelle Yeoh in things?” Directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (collectively known as “Daniels”) accomplish this through the multiverse, the concept where an infinite number of universes exist separately but are equal to each other. Yeoh plays Evelyn, a miserable laundromat owner who discovers that the multiverse is under attack by an evil entity during an IRS audit meeting, and she must restore order. Evelyn’s real-time education on the multiverse’s wacky mechanics parallels a re-assessment of her life and her family, including her sweet, hapless husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) and her rebellious queer daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu).

Everything Everywhere All at Once could’ve solely existed as a Michelle Yeoh star vehicle and still be absolutely worth it. The film is more ambitious and audacious than that, staggeringly so. It hops between genres with exhilarating abandon, bringing science fiction, fantasy, action-adventure, existential drama, and comedy under its umbrella. Even within those definitions, the film toys with different styles and conventions. It deploys silly sight gags and absurdist dark humor with the same ease it does kung-fu and The Matrix-style bullet-time action. The clashes and contrasting styles should make for absolute chaos, and it does, but Daniels exert tremendous control over it. They never make you think the film is out of their depth, even as it careens close to balls-to-the-wall insanity, a thrillingly common occurrence. They’ve accounted for every jaw drop, gasp, and guffaw in their construction of this singular cinematic experience. (This is a film you must see in theaters, period.)

Stephanie Hsu, Michelle Yeoh, and Ke Huy Quan in Everything Everywhere All at Once (Courtesy: A24)

Everything’s powerful command and focus come from its comedic foundations. Genre-bending as it is, the film is riotously funny, earning the kind of laughter that bowls you over, clutching your stomach. Many films can do that, but few are as intelligent and self-aware as this one. The source of Everything’s boundless humor is the multiverse itself. The multiverse is wildly popular (thanks to comic book culture’s stranglehold on the zeitgeist) and utterly ridiculous (again, comics). The film plays at both ends, developing a surprisingly robust logic for the multiverse while relentlessly skewering it. The most outlandish, hilarious reality you dream up will pale in comparison to the “hot dogs for fingers” universe. And that’s just one out of several the film lays at your feet; each is worth its own movie.

Despite the film’s shenanigans, the humor never comes at its expense, nor are they cheap, lazy, or inaccessible. You’ll laugh – hard – but it comes from an unexpected groundswell of respect for the characters trapped in this hellscape. Everything is deeply rooted in the Wang family and their existential misery, particularly Evelyn’s and the resulting consequences. It slows down enough to examine those consequences when the film isn’t stripping the multiverse for gut-busting moments. Filtered through the Chinese-American experience, Everything thoughtfully explores generational trauma, fractured family dynamics, depression, nihilism, love, and acceptance. The film is such wild fun at full speed that you might assume the more reflective moments would wreck the party. They don’t. Those scenes offer breathing room and enrich the frantic action and comedy with powerful emotional stakes. You want Evelyn to win, not just because the world is at stake, but because she deserves to, no matter the universe.

Jamie Lee Curtis and Michelle Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All at Once (Courtesy: A24)

As stunningly layered as Everything is, the critical core is Michelle Yeoh. She is quite literally everything in this film. She is cynical, exhausted, incredulous, ferocious, glamorous, seductive, heartbroken, dangerous, tactile, hilarious, and many other adjectives that still don’t encompass her entire range. She carries every emotion with a gravity-shifting presence, pulling us in with her expressive eyes, face, and movements. No matter the absurdity and ridiculousness of the scene (I once again mention “hot dogs as fingers”), Yeoh is utterly, refreshingly committed. To call her performance a tour de force is inadequate. It should shame Hollywood that it took so long to give her a proper lead project. Every studio executive working in the past two decades that passed her over should spend this year in exile.

The only acceptable recompense – besides a Best Actress Oscar nomination for Yeoh – is for the same not to happen to Stephanie Hsu, who plays both Yeoh’s daughter Joy and the evil force of the multiverse. The few times that focus is pulled from Yeoh is because Hsu is opposite her on-screen. She is both delightful and heartbreaking to watch as her character needles between animated anarchy and emotional destruction over Evelyn’s rejection. It’s an undeniable star-making performance and deserves to catapult Hsu to a level of Western success that has long eluded her predecessors, Yeoh included.

Stephanie Hsu in Everything Everywhere All at Once (Courtesy: A24)

Walking away from Everything Everywhere All at Once without feeling the least bit changed is impossible. No matter how you connect – its creative direction, its brash blend of genre, its hopeful response to nihilism, Michelle Yeoh – the film feels like a real inflection point in a medium in desperate need of one. It deserves to be a cult classic and a four-quadrant box office smash showered with awards. It deserves to dominate pop culture for the rest of 2022 and remain the delightful gem that we regularly cite as an underrated masterpiece.

It deserves everything, everywhere, all at once.

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