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Review: Everything Everywhere All at Once

April 6, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

The second film from co-directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, who are credited collectively as Daniels, Everything Everywhere All at Once is an audacious sophomore feature that puts a variety of genres, filmmaking styles and sci-fi ideas into a blender, and hits spin to create a singularly entertaining and at times strangely beautiful concoction.

It’s a film that messes around in the multiverse of limitless possibilities and combines any number of things, including a battle involving butt plugs, a world of floppy “hot dog” hands where people use their feet instead, and an extended homage to Pixar’s Ratatouille, with a beating heart that ties it all together.

This is no surprise considering that the first Daniels movie was Swiss Army Man, a film that featured Paul Dano riding Daniel Radcliffe’s farting corpse, but was strangely quite moving as well. It’s a tough act to follow, but their latest is perhaps even more ambitious, a reality-bending, existential opus built around what is, at heart, a grounded character-driven story about an Asian-America family who run a laundromat and are behind in paying their taxes.

The main character is Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), who runs the struggling laundry business with her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), who has grown tired of their relationship and is trying to find the right time to present her with divorce papers. They are right in the middle of planning for a big party, with Evelyn’s traditional father (James Hong) visiting from China. Evelyn and Waymond’s young adult daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) has also returned home and brought along her girlfriend (Tallie Medel), causing some family tension.

To top it all off, the family business has raised the ire of the IRS due to irregularities in their tax filings, forcing them to deal with snappish IRS agent Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis) at a dreary office building, and this corporate tower is where a lot of the film takes place. It’s here that an alternate version of Waymond introduces Evelyn to the idea of the multiverse, with every decision she has made in her life branching off into its own universe. Waymond informs her that there is an evil force feeding on cynicism that is threatening to consume the universe, and only Evelyn can stop it. But she must master talents she has learned across the various universes to do so.

Yeoh is fantastic throughout the film, giving it her all in moments of comedy, character drama, martial arts action and abject absurdity, in what feels like the defining role of a storied career. Quan, making his triumphant return to onscreen acting following his memorable roles as a child actor in The Goonies and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, delivers standout supporting work. It’s an incredible, physically demanding performance that requires him to seamlessly transition from the meek, fanny pack-wearing husband to switched on martial arts action hero and master of multiple universes, and Quan handles it brilliantly with both endearing humour and pathos.

There are a myriad of cinematic influences felt throughout, including (but not limited to) The Matrix, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, but Everything Everywhere All at Once still manages to feel wholly singular. The Daniels serve up brilliantly choreographed action set-pieces that skirt the line between being comedic and genuinely exciting, some dazzling editing (including a series of match cuts between Evelyn in different universes), and impressive visual effects that belie the film’s limited budget.

The result is a glorious cascade of images and ideas, with an emotional through-line that ties it all together. Even as the various storylines grow increasingly weird and convoluted, the film’s beating heart keeps us emotionally engaged. There is a great romanticism to the film as well, with one of the loveliest segments allowing the filmmakers to pay immaculate tribute to the work of Wong Kar Wai, with Quan taking on the role of dreamboat romantic lead.

At its best, Everything Everywhere All at Once is a work of mad genius, that not only entertains but also feels like it has the power of change certain outlooks on life. In the last act, the film becomes something quite moving as well (the Daniels even manage to make us feel emotional watching rocks), serving as a philosophical takedown of nihilism that reminds us how we need each other and that there is meaning to be found in an ordinary, so-called “boring” life. All this from a martial arts action comedy about a family that runs a laundromat!

Everything Everywhere All at Once is now playing in limited release, and opens everywhere on April 8th. It’s being distributed in Canada by Elevation Pictures.

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