‘Everything, Everywhere, All at once’
“Everything, Everywhere, All at Once” is the most movie I’ve seen in years, and that’s a compliment.
On one level, “most movie” is literal. The film contains a multitude of genres — it’s a family drama and a comedy, science-fiction with kung fu action, plus added romance. All that in two hours and 20 minutes. Pretty good deal for the price of a movie ticket, if you ask me.
On another level, “Everything, Everywhere, All at Once” is the most movie because it made me feel the most emotions. I saw the film in theaters on the opening night of its wide release, April 8, and along with everybody else in the theater, I laughed, cried, screamed, clapped, and delighted at the increasingly rising stakes, in terms of both plot and tone.
A note of caution: I cannot recommend finishing this review until you’ve seen the film. Go! (I’ll still be here when you get back).
The increasingly rising stakes in the plot are obvious. Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh), a Chinese immigrant and co-owner of a laundromat with her husband, needs to save the multiverse from another universe’s version of her daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu), who, in all universes, has never been understood by her mother and is now a nihilistic destroyer of universes called Jobu Tupaki. Plus, Evelyn needs to do this while saving her marriage to her always optimistic husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), who she has alienated over years of resentment due to her unfulfilled potential. We all got that, right?
But what’s more thrilling are the stakes in terms of tone. This film is a gambit of ever-increasing boldness on the part of the directors, two men named Daniel (Kwan and Scheinert, respectively) and known collectively as “Daniels.” This is a movie that aims to make you cry not during a mother-daughter fight but during a mother-daughter fight that spans multiple, simultaneous universes, including one where both are sentient rocks. That this movie was made and is in theaters is a shock. That it’s good is a miracle.
In fact, there are many miracles in this film. One is Yeoh’s performance. Yeoh has been a presence in American cinema for decades now, known historically for martial arts films like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and more recently for dignified performances in “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.” Here, the 59-year-old actress is finally allowed to show everything she can do. Is there any movie in American cinema that has allowed a 59-year-old actress to show this level of emotional depth, while also showing off her martial arts ability? I’ll answer for you. There is not.
Another miracle is Quan, who plays Evelyn’s husband in the film. Quan, originally a child star in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “The Goonies,” left acting behind for years after not receiving any opportunities due to being an Asian man. He has said that he only came back to acting after seeing “Crazy Rich Asians” and getting “FOMO.” Thank goodness he has, because his performances as both the ever-positive Waymond and as the action hero, boss-as-hell Waymond from the Alpha universe are pitch-perfect.
It’s thrilling that film has gotten to the point where both Yeoh and Quan can gain recognition for their long-held talents, and it’s even more thrilling that the film that did so is as adventurous as this one.
I should technically, as a reviewer, offer critiques of “Everything, Everywhere, All At Once” especially for its over-stuffedness. The “Ratatouille” parody universe with a raccoon, for example, is probably unnecessary as a running gag. Yet, at the same time, I’m loath to ask a movie this inventive to edit out the image of Yeoh on Harry Shum Jr.’s shoulders, clutching at his hair, and steering him toward getting his raccoon back. It’s stupid, yes. It’s unnecessary thematically, yes. But, the thing is, I don’t care. The Daniels seem to have approached editing this film by asking what would be the most fun and simultaneously the most emotionally effective, as opposed to what would be the cleanest. The constant returns to the raccoon universe were not necessary, but they were fun.
For some, the elephant in the room in a discussion of “Everything, Everywhere, All at Once” is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The MCU represents, more than any other type of movie at the moment, what a “popular movie” should be. Part of the value of those movies is that they are accessible to all who see them, yet their constant reliance on formula often leaves me cold. I cannot imagine someone finding nothing to enjoy about “Everything, Everywhere, All at Once,” and was happy to see a movie aim to be popular, while still throwing away any formula.
Alternatively, “good movies” are often testaments to restraint. Last year’s most acclaimed films like “The Power of the Dog,” “Drive My Car,” or “The Worst Person in the World” were all beautifully quiet, albeit sometimes with moments of glorious expressionism. Their minimalism was appreciated, but here is a movie that is never quiet, but is emotionally affecting all the same. Somehow, “Everything, Everywhere, All at Once” manages to exemplify its own title by doing everything, going everywhere, and doing it all in one film. It’s a testament to the value of being more movie.