The fact that life has no meaning has most often been seen as a bummer. “Everything Everywhere All at Once” begs to differ. Well, it doesn’t “beg” to differ so much as it flips a middle finger the idea. And that middle finger is a hotdog. Embrace the preposterous, y’all.
Writers/directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert – who are more original than their team name (“The Daniels”) – are playing fun and games with nihilism. Their surreal, hilarious sci-fi melodrama casually puts forth an oddly comforting take on modern life: Nothing we do matters, isn’t that great? The absence of purpose comes with an absence of rules and the freedom to define meaning for ourselves. Despite its ultra-hyperbolic title, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” may have actually undersold itself.
As wildly chaotic and recklessly ambitious as the film is, very little actually happens. Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) is battling depression and the IRS. The laundromat that she owns with her husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), is being audited. Almost the entirety of the film is set in either the IRS building or the laundromat. It is also set in thousands of alternate realities.
An alternate version of Waymond hijacks his body and tells Evelyn that she is the key to defeating an omnipotent evil being. Said evil being happens to reside in the body of their daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu). Luckily, an alternate version of Evelyn developed technology to harvest memories, knowledge, and skills from other worlds. Doing something weird – the weirder the better – creates a bridge between realities that allows a download. This is the best conceit for transporting across time and space this side of a floating police box.
With the aid of an Evelyn that’s a kung fu master, an Evelyn that’s a hibachi chef, an Evelyn that lives in a world where humans evolved to have hotdog fingers, and many others, Evelyn fights a malevolent IRS agent (Jamie Lee Curtis) and other disciples of the creature who intends to end all realities. If you achieve harmonic convergence with this weird-ass film, you will laugh as hard at a poorly made animatronic raccoon as you cry at the quiet rebellion that is love.
Holy shit, Michelle Yeoh. In a performance destined to be ignored so that a white lady in a fat suit can win an award for playing another famous white lady, Yeoh is fearless. For his part, Quan is a revelation. Whatever alternate reality in which he simply stayed famous after Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Goonies is better than this one, no matter what human appendages are transformed into tubular processed meat.
The film is repetitive, sure. But it is repetitive for the sake of inclusivity. Some of us are “all in” the moment you say “multiverse,” but many normals out there need their narrative food cut up for them. For all its abstraction and shenanigans, The Daniels made a movie that is purposefully accessible. That’s kind of the point. We are all in this nightmarish nonsense together.
The hype that “Everything Everywhere All at Once” has generated is as threatening as the demonic bagel it features. Yet it’s somehow better than I expected. I did not expect to cry at a conversation between two rocks. Being neither a mother nor a daughter, I did not expect to understand that dynamic in a new way. I did not expect to ever feel comforted at the thought that life has no meaning. Another reality’s Ryan may have been prepared, but I’m good with being surprised in this dimension.
Grade = A+
Other Critical Voices to Consider
Josephine L at Geeks of Color says “One moment they’re speaking in English, the next in Mandarin, and then in Cantonese. To someone outside of this cultural circle, it may not make sense, but for someone like me, a child of a Chinese immigrant family, I couldn’t stop smiling.”
Amy Nicholson at the “Wall Street Journal” says “Despite their wundercabinet of delights, the filmmakers most want to celebrate human beings in all their contradictions. Each of us, the movie says, is capable of everything.”
Kate Sánchez at But Why Tho? says “The chaos is crafted with intention, meant to brush against Evelyn’s expectations for herself and her family as they jump through multiverses trying to save the world.”