(Written by Allison Brown)
As someone obsessed with time travel and alternate universes, I knew Everything Everywhere All At Once would be a new favorite once I saw it announced for the South by Southwest lineup. I cannot recall the last time I have been so immersed in a film. Everything Everywhere All At Once exists as a female-led amalgamation somewhere between Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, The Butterfly Effect, and The Matrix. The narrative is a jumbled mesh of helter-skelter, comprisised of hot dog fingers, weapons fashioned from dildos, fanny packs, a pet Pomeranian on a leash, awards utilized as butt plugs, a Ratatouille-esque sidebar with a racoon, cognizant rocks, googly eyes, real-time color-changing nail polish, confetti throw-up, and endless karate fight scenes, but somehow it all fits like a glove. Amidst all the randomness, Everything Everywhere All At Once puts the importance of family at the center, and demonstrates that love and joy conquer all. A genuine Chinese cultural authenticity is interspersed throughout to make the work more singular. Filmmaking duo Daniels, Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, creates an instant classic with this absurdly funny and intellectual sci-fi treat!
Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh), Joy (Stephanie Hsu), Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), and Grandpa Gong Gong (James Hong) make up the unconventional family at the heart of Everything Everywhere All At Once. Waymond is about to serve his wife, Evelyn, with divorce papers as they head to an auditor to deal with the mess that is their laundromat business, “Coin Laundry,” which they live above. Joy and her mother, Evelyn, don’t always see eye-to-eye, as Evelyn is extremely judgmental of her homosexuality and appearance.
In an elevator up to the meeting with the IRS, Waymond breaks character, opens an umbrella, and warns Evelyn that she “may be in grave danger.” He tells her she can either turn left to her scheduled auditor appointment (with Deirdre Beaubeirdra, played by Jamie Lee Curtis) or turn right to the janitor’s closet. This ultimatum felt very much reminiscent of the red or blue pill dilemma in The Matrix. Waymond pulls out a device called a life path scanner, and Evelyn’s entire past unfurls before her eyes. He tells Evelyn that he will not remember this interaction, and not to mention their conversation again. It soon becomes clear that this Waymond is from the “alphaverse,” an alternate universe where a murdered version of Evelyn discovered a way to contact her other alts. Appearances from alphaverse alts of the entire family escalate in importance as the film progresses. The actions of this unremarkable household amplify and ripple to affect the state of the multiverse. A reimagined everything bagel threatens to destroy the world as the Wangs know it!
Once a film starts dividing into chapters, I can usually assume I will hate it. Everything Everywhere All At Once breaks the mold, and is more successful with this choice than others before. I think this is because each of the three sections, One: Everything, Two: Everywhere, and Three: All At Once, are leaner than the section prior and do not grow tiresome. A meta false ending somewhere around the midway point, complete with a cut to a similar poster to the real-world release, genuinely made me lament the film’s theoretical end, as I was enjoying it so much.
Despite a potentially confusing concept, Daniels effectively explain the rules of Everything Everywhere All At Once’s multiverse to the audience in the most comprehensible manner possible. Perplexing character names, like Jobu Tobacky, are repeated several times, and even sympathetically mistaken by the main character, until subtitles for Mandarin or Cantonese dialogue eventually appear to clarify the pronunciation. A detailed list that is not only spoken, but also written, outlines the steps to “verse-jump.” One, switch shoes to the wrong feet; two, close eyes and imagine you are in the janitor’s closet; three, hold that thought and press the green button (on a Bluetooth cellphone earpiece-like contraption); and don’t forget to breathe!
It is further revealed that wild off-kilter behavior, such as eating lip balm, stapling paper to one’s head or swallowing a turtle figurine, also acts as a jumping pad to help propel verse-jumping. The wackiness of this character behavior is perhaps the most comical part of the movie. These strange activities are utilized to essentially level up in physical conflict by downloading skills from other versions of oneself. Every jump opens a crack, which can eventually fracture an individual’s consciousness if one is not careful.
A letter of optimism is woven in by Daniels in avoiding a portrayal of any character as a true villain. Each has an eventual reveal to their intentions, and it becomes difficult for the audience to generally root against anyone. Cameos from Harry Shum Jr. and Jenny Slate only augment the star power.
Everything Everywhere All At Once broke all barriers of consciousness when it premiered at the 2022 South by Southwest Film Festival, and jumps to theaters next Friday, March 25.