Sometimes the title says it all, and here it tells you what to expect from a film best described as a philosophical romp. The sophomore feature film of the directing duo known as The Daniels is just as out the gate as you’d expect from the directors of Swiss Army Man (2016) and the music video for the DJ Snake single ‘Turn Down For What’. Distributed by indie darlings A24, ‘Everything’ has broken into the mainstream, with critics and audiences alike handing out rave reviews.
Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022) depicts Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) middle-aged, first-generation Chinese-American immigrant, as her life is seeming to come apart at the seams. Her marriage to the sweethearted Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) is dying of neglect; her laundry business is failing; her hypercritical elderly father is visiting; she’s struggling to understand her daughter, Joy’s (Stephanie Hsu) queerness; and on top of that, she’s being audited by an unfriendly IRS agent, Deidre Beaubeirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis.)
It’s during a visit to the tax office that things really get strange. She’s handed a seemingly nonsensical set of instructions by Waymond, who seems different somehow. Unbeknownst to Evelyn, those strange actions are the key to unlocking the multiverse. There, he explains that he’s from another universe and that he needs her help to defeat the terrifying Jobu Tapaki, who seeks to destroy the multiverse. Evelyn soon learns that she has unexpected familiarity with the big-bad and that she must come to terms with her life as it is if she wants to save existence as she knows it.
Jobu Tapaki and Evelyn find themselves sparring across too many universes to count. Evelyn finds herself as a hot-dog-fingered lover to Deidre, who tries to woo her with a sickening mating dance; as a rock in a beautiful barren canyon; and as a glamorous martial artist and actress, mirroring Michelle Yeoh’s real-life career. Eventually, Evelyn manages to bring the universes back into alignment, including her own. The film ends in a heart-warming manner, with Evelyn realising the value of what she has, and finally showing appreciation to her family.
This film is beautifully cast, with particularly shining performances from Yeoh, Curtis, and Hsu. The unbelievably rich text from The Daniels allows the true depths of Yeoh’s talent to shine. Evelyn is depicted as both sympathetic and cruel; funny and lame; sharply intelligent and emotionally dumb; and Yeoh doesn’t miss a beat. Also popping up along the way, Jenny Slate as the unhinged Dog Mom, and the legendary James Hong as Gong Gong. There isn’t a slack performance in the whole 132 minute runtime.
Despite the preposterous antics, this film somehow manages to be stunningly true to life in its emotional core. At its heart, this is a film about mothers and daughters, and all the beautifully ugly, warmly chilling experiences that come with that relationship. Everything Everywhere All At Once is unique in its ability to tell the story of multi-generational women of colour’s multifaceted experiences in a blunt manner, while also taking time to experience joy and love. Not wallowing in the bleak moments, or turning Evely’s turmoil into emotional torture porn is a testament to the care taken by some very talented and unorthodox writers/directors.
This movie has been going gangbusters at the theatres, making much more than was expected. It’s evident that this movie was underestimated by its relatively limited run in theatres in New Zealand. Unfortunately, this movie will be increasingly hard to catch until it’s released to streaming (or less scrupulous methods.) Hopefully, the film having legs at the box office, coupled with rave reviews and jazzed audiences will open the door to more diverse and inventive stories. If you can manage to catch this film, you absolutely will not regret it. Go find it now, really.
5/5 Stars *****