Everything Everywhere All at Once
By Audrey Nelson
The Daniels Deliver the Goods in the Most Bizarre Take On the Multiverse to Date
I’m not sure how they did it, but the Daniels have outdone themselves in the bizarre indie film category this time – an especially impressive achievement considering their last film together prominently featured a farting corpse. Their new film, accurately titled Everything Everywhere All At Once, is about the hot new trend in Hollywood that is bound to become dull after comic book movies in the next five years milk it for all it’s worth: the multiverse. Luckily for the Daniels, their take on the multiverse is being released before we as moviegoers all collectively get tired of this concept.
The film stars Michelle Yeoh as Evelyn, whose best years seem to have passed already. Stuck in a marriage that’s all but fizzled out over the decades, she and her family run a failing laundromat that they live above, and tensions are running high. If living on the verge of being convicted for tax fraud isn’t bad enough, Evelyn’s daughter recently has brought home a girlfriend for her parents to meet, a revelation that Evelyn doesn’t exactly take in the most healthy way. They meet at their local IRS office with an agent, played hilariously by Jamie Lee Curtis, and although Evelyn does her best to pay attention to the accounting jargon, it turns out she has someone else in her ear. From the location of a nearby janitor closet, a version of her husband from across the multiverse drops an exposition dump, explaining that he believes that the Evelyn he’s speaking to might just be the Evelyn that will save the multiverse from certain doom. He gives her a crappy Bluetooth headset, which definitely comes in handy. This piece of stylish apparel allows anyone wearing it to jack into other versions of themselves from different universes and use their abilities and talents. The catch is that the wearer must complete seemingly random actions to trigger said abilities. Just a handful of the very memorable triggers for these abilities include eating chapstick, downing a bottle of red soda in the office refrigerator, snorting a housefly, giving yourself paper cuts in between each finger, and performing lewd acts with a phallically-shaped IRS employee of the year trophy (as stated earlier, this is a real weird movie).
All of the information about the mechanics of multiverse-jumping is dropped on the viewer at a fairly breakneck pace, but you get the general gist of it all through taking in the film’s fight scenes, which are hilarious, bizarre, and will have you feeling the impact of every punch, kick, and pinky-spike. Evelyn takes on different abilities from different versions of themselves at a moment’s notice (including but not limited to the hand-to-hand combat skills of a version of an Evelyn who became a martial-arts movie star, or skills with a knife learned from an Evelyn that took on a career in culinary arts), and the editing as quick on its feet as the actors performing the fight choreography. The film is constantly cutting back and forth between universes not only amid fight scenes but also in the more tender moments. It’s a lot to take in one viewing, so I imagine the film will reward repeat viewings due to the sheer amount happening onscreen during any given moment.
The mechanics of how the multiverse works are a bit convoluted and messy, and early on in the film I was more than a little bit lost. It was at this point that a certain line from the similarly convoluted and messy film Tenet came to mind: “Don’t try to understand. Feel it.” Now, normally watching a new movie and being reminded of Tenet is a terrible omen for its prospects, but not so much in the case of Everything Everywhere. While Tenet was self-serious and bloated, Everything Everywhere is exhilarating, zany, and at times deranged. The Daniels take Christopher Nolan’s screenwriting philosophy (essentially not thinking too hard about complicated mechanics and enjoying the spectacle) and put it into actual good use. The question of how and why these infinite versions of Evelyn are connected in the multiverse isn’t as important as the film’s universal theme of familial bonds. I stopped questioning the nitty-gritty story aspects at a certain point in the film, because in all honesty, it’s a silly concept done in a very silly way, and I think Daniels figured that out at some point in the writing phase. In Swiss Army Man, the audience is never meant to question the logic of why the corpse of Daniel Radcliffe is farting. He just farts. End of story. That’s the great thing about not only cinema but fiction as a whole: it doesn’t always have to play by the rules of reality. How someone from an entirely different universe is taking over the body of Evelyn’s husband to deliver exposition doesn’t really make sense, nor does the storyline involving Evelyn’s daughter's identity in the larger scale of the multiverse (all of that is going to take another re-watch for me to pick up on). However, this movie is so exhilarating to watch with its spectacularly bizarre fight scenes and bold storyline decisions that I honestly didn’t care about its specific plot mechanics after the 30-minute mark.
The film was originally written with Jackie Chan (Michelle Yeoh’s co-star from the 1992 action film Supercop) in mind, but the directors eventually decided to swap the gender of the protagonist and go with Michelle Yeoh as the lead instead. Perhaps there’s an alternate version of this movie from another universe out there where Jackie Chan was great as the leading man, but for my money, I can’t imagine any other actor better in this role than Yeoh. Another stand-out is Stephanie Hsu, who plays two roles: Evelyn’s daughter, Joy, and a mysterious entity in the multiverse. Hsu is the standout performance in the film for me due to how relatable her character is, especially when it comes to her relationship with her mother. Yes, Everything Everywhere All At Once is a fast-paced martial arts movie, but it also doubles as a mother-daughter story, touching on generational trauma and the emotional baggage we can receive from our parents.
Everything Everywhere All At Once is the batshit-crazy sci-fi kung-fu movie I never knew I needed, with a tender and sweet mother-daughter storyline at the center of it all. If the future of multiverse-spanning comic book adaptations has even a fraction of the creativity and spark of this film, then maybe, just maybe, the future of big-budget filmmaking isn’t so bleak after all.