I’m all for a comforting and predictable film. With the stresses of the last couple of years, watching a Marvel film or a rom-com speaks to me. I told myself I wasn’t in the mood for something too original so I sat down to Everything Everywhere All at Once thinking it would be a fun Matrix knock-off where I could see Michelle Yeoh kick butt.
I got the kick-butt part, the rest kicked me square in my expectations, shattering them on impact. Everything Everywhere All at Once is a film with just as many lives as we see Yeoh’s Evelyn Quan Wang wade through. There are so many themes that encompass so much depth and the film is so rich it requires a second viewing.
The story is deceptively simple, an interdimensional rupture unravels realities calling for an unlikely hero to discover her newly discovered powers and perfect them in order to save the world. Ok, it sounds a little out there, but in our action adventure soaked world filled with sci-fi horror and alien superheroes, it’s not so far-fetched. This plot tracked for me more strongly than Power of the Dog, I’m sorry to say.
Evelyn has a disappointing marriage with Waymond Wang (Ke Huy Quian), endures their disappointing daughter Joy Wang (Stephanie Hsu), while running a disappointing family laundromat. They are behind on their taxes and Evelyn is generally unhappy. She dotes on Joy to the point of harassment and while she tries to accept her daughter is queer and independent, she finds she can’t break down societal barriers.
One day Evelyn is exposed to the multiverse and learns that there is a dark force that is putting every universe in danger. Another universe version of Waymond causes Evelyn to view her Waymond in a new life and consider the what-if’s of her current existence. As she embarks on her adventure she learns more about her husband, her daughter, her father, and most of all – herself.
There are many things to love about this film, starting with the cast. Michelle Yeoh’s comeback has resulted in thrilling moves from the iconic actress. Seeing her in Star Trek:Discovery on Peacock or in Marvel’s Shang Chi has been an absolute delight. Yeoh has an infectious authenticity and you can see the work she puts in to make every role appear effortless. Of course the legendary James Wong is always a delight and I was thrilled by Jamie Lee Curtis’s interpretation of Deidre Beaubeirdre. Casting-wise, I think the film deserves two very big shoutouts.
The first is the rise of Ke Huy Quan. Quan became famous with two very large and influential films: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Goonies. He also appeared briefly on sitcoms like Nothing is Easy and Head of the Class. He then appeared in Encino Man and after 2002 left the spotlight completely, not booking another role until 2021’s Finding ‘Ohana. In my opinion this wasn’t an issue of talent, but rather of typecasting. Quan couldn’t get beyond Short Round and Data. Seeing his versatility and ability to not only come back, but completely act in a way that’s different while at the same time being very signature to Quan. Evelyn loathes Waymond while the audience knows he’s doing his best. It creates an interesting dichotomy where the protagonist doesn’t exactly start as likable, but has to earn it throughout the film.
The other shoutout goes to newcomer Stephanie Hsu in her first major supporting film role. Hsu brings such an authenticity and beautiful malaise to Joy that she draws you in immediately. The heart of the film is the multi-universal relationship between mothers and daughters. Think if Turning Red were written as a dramatic sci-fi flick. Hsu’s performance is so pure and good and really holds a lot of the emotional weight of the film. She’s truly one to watch.
Supporting roles by Jenny Slate, Harry Shum Jr. and Brian Le should be mentioned as well. You could tell everyone involved loved the project and their passion flew off the screen.
The self proclaimed “Daniels” are the directing team of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. Together they wrote an engaging and inclusive script that was a delight for the eyes. Each color told a story and each of Joy’s increasingly erratic outfits were meant to make you feel a certain way. It’s effective without being pretentious or patronizing. They have a lot of fun and some of the worlds are ridiculous, but that’s also the point. There’s also a spotlight on Asian culture and family dynamics, but it’s relatable to the American experience.
A complete masterpiece of a film, I highly recommend multiple cinema viewings! Everything Everywhere All at Once is playing in theaters now.