Everything Everywhere All at Once (Review): Spectacular Originality

I’m not easy to surprise but Everything Everywhere All At Once broke my brain… Read on for my further thoughts on the film.

Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) runs a struggling laundromat with her husband. She’s on the brink of divorce, has a strained relationship with her daughter, must take care of her aging father, and faces an audit by the IRS. Her life is far from what she wished it to be. But, out of all potential realities where EVERY possible life decision of hers came true, she is the only version of herself which can save the multiverse from chaos. If that sounds like a fast escalation of stakes, that’s because it is for her as well…

Up front I ought to declare: this may be the weirdest film I’ve ever seen. And I’ve been to film school! They show you all kinds of crazy stuff in those courses… But I could easily see my professors showing us this film because the craft on display here is incredible!

Just to give you a sample of the weirdness: this film somehow juggles talking raccoons, anthropomorphic rocks, sexualized hot-dog fingers, exo-suits, martial arts, and donut-sized black holes.

It doesn’t hit you with everything ALL at once though (I could have come up with a different way to say that and chose not to). The plot only grew stranger as its threads unraveled. Though I expected a strange film, so I was actually confused when the the first act was tame. I wondered if, perhaps, there was less action and more drama than I’d expected. But that all changed quickly.

Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) in a strange alternate universe.

Before going any further, I wanna explain the multiverse rules (as I understood them). So, instead of physically travelling to parallel worlds, the characters transfer their consciousness. It’s kinda like how they sent Wolverine to the 70s in Days of Future Past: he remains where he was, but his mind merges with another version of himself. So it’s nearly like being in two places at once.

The benefit to this technique is that the version of you which does the melding can absorb all memories and skills of their other self. Evelyn, for example, spends a lot of time trying to connect with a version of herself who knows martial arts. That way she can use those skills in her current reality. It’s a bonkers and fascinatingly cool concept!

Only problem is that jumping around too often causes one to lose their sense of reality. If they exist in too many places at once, they have no grounding and their mind will fracture. So the jumps must be calculated.

Oh yeah. Another big thing is that the jumps can only be performed by harnessing the random weirdness of the universe (or something like that). Strange behaviour + Concentration + Technology = a successful jump. This whole element added a delightfully quirky element to the film where, even in “serious” moments, absurd actions needed occur or else the protagonists would perish. These actions could range from putting your shoes on the wrong feet to self-harm. Anything goes so long as it’s sufficiently weird.

This is a fantastic sci-fi film, as it lives up to the genre’s best examples: telling a nuanced story of human existence through a scientific filter.

I’m floored by how well this screenplay managed to balance Evelyn’s various realities! The way she bounced back and forth could have and should have been a confusing mess. But the “geography” somehow always made sense. And each reality’s “storyline” (for her alternate selves) was relevant to the main plot, so far as I could tell. Each world had something to prove about Evelyn’s overall character, or something to teach her beyond surface-level abilities.

This story was surprisingly tight for a film with such grand ambitions. For all the craziness, Everything Everywhere All at Once is a heartfelt story about the bonds which make us who we are and make us more than we are. It’s a tale breaking down the generational complexities of familial relationships. Spouses, parents to children, and children with grandparents.

Everything Everywhere All at Once invested me in its character relationships and their outcomes. The drama was compelling and relatable. The fact that the film’s family structure is so grounded provides the movie an emotional core which would have felt just as appropriate for a straight-up vanilla drama.

But the film also understands that family drama isn’t necessarily serious business. Everything Everywhere All at Once is an unexpectedly funny film! Most of the jokes landed enough to give me at least a smirk. The comic stand-outs of the picture were Ke Huy Quan and Jamie Lee Curtis.

Michelle Yeoh faced a gargantuan acting challenge with this film. She somehow needed to make each universe’s version of herself distinct whilst juggling action and comedy. Most actors would have failed to be convincing at any one of these tasks, let alone all three. What she did here is nothing short of incredible!

What’s funny is that this may be the most “ordinary” person I’ve ever seen Yeoh play. She usually portrays characters of some exceptional power or prowess. But Evelyn Wang is a decidedly unremarkable human being… at first.

Wang is well-realized as a three-dimensional person! We come to understand how her mind works, based on her current life and her history. And we’re shown the nuances of her moral compass, her flaws, and her ambitions. She also (importantly) receives an emotional character arc which challenges her and forces her to grow as a person.

Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) learning martial arts.

Joy (Stephanie Hsu) is Evelyn’s daughter, who struggles to get her life in order. All the worse that she can’t find acceptance for her homosexuality. Well– her father doesn’t seem to care. But Evelyn makes the biggest fuss over the situation. She’s clearly bothered by the fact her daughter has a girlfriend, but acts like it’d be more of an issue for her elderly, traditional-minded father.

Stephanie Hsu seems to enjoy herself in this role, and that always shines through to an audience. She gives Joy a vulnerability which makes you sympathize with her. Yet she also pulls off a menacing performance as a sadistic alternate version of Joy.

Ke Huy Quan gives a largely understated performance as (prime universe) Waymond Wang. He’s meek and doesn’t draw lots of attention to himself. But that’s the beauty of it. Because we, like Evelyn, are more focused on the action and craziness and kind of ignore (prime) Waymond. Except Waymond continually performs key actions in ways which don’t become immediately obvious till later.

And, as the alternate version of himself, he’s mostly saddled with exposition dumps. I thought he handled those well, considering. It was hilarious to see how much more “cool” alternate Waymond was to his prime universe counterpart, but the trade-off is that he’s a less compassionate person.

Everything Everywhere All at Once contains some brilliant action sequences! I was impressed with how long the camera stayed on its subjects as they fought– actively demonstrating the actors’ combat prowess. And the choreography somehow managed to be both ridiculous and badass at the same time. I don’t understand how they pulled that off…

The visual effects were also impressive! Not much to say there. But nothing outright took my attention from the film, as sometimes happens with rushed CGI. I got the impression the majority of the film was practically executed, which helped matters.

Production design was MOSTLY relegated to three main settings (apartment, laundromat, and the IRS building) but each set maintains a unique vibe and personality. The apartment set felt lived-in; the IRS building soul-crushingly mundane; and the laundromat suitably imperfect (like, it’s not in disrepair but not pristine either).

Onto some critiques now. To be clear: I enjoyed Everything Everywhere All at Once throughout its run-time. But the story’s pace was… hit and miss. Each individual scene moved adequately. But, when taken as a whole, this two and a half hour film felt like 4 hours to me!

For me the moment I consciously noticed was somewhere past the half-way mark. The film’s title is a clue as to its structure. It sections the story off into three chunks: Everything, everywhere, and all at once. I already felt that the “Everything” section told a good story, so I was surprised to find that there was LOT more to come.

My issues with the pacing hit their peak by the third act, where the on-screen insanity cranked up to 11. Maybe I was just impatient, but I was ready for the film to end long before that point.

Everything Everywhere All at Once is definitely not going to be to everyone’s tastes. You really must pay attention or else you’ll be lost. That’s less a criticism than is a warning to you as a potential consumer.

This film blew my freaking mind! I walked out of the theatre dumbfounded, and with few clear opinions. I mostly thought, “What the heck did I just watch?” I wasn’t entirely sure. But I knew it was something special. And if this picture doesn’t do well in the mainstream, it’ll almost assuredly become a cult classic. I’ve never before seen a film by Daniels (Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) but I’ll await their next film with enthusiasm!

Everything Everywhere All at Once is exceptional and something you Must See.

Does anyone have any recommendations for other Michelle Yeoh movies? What did you think of Everything Everywhere All at Once? Please share your thoughts in the comments (no spoilers please). If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know. Also be sure to Like this article on Facebook and share if you enjoyed!

Till next time,

Joe Morin

By Joseph Morin

Joe's passion for film and entertainment began at 7 years old when his younger brother demanded to watch Duel of the Fates every day for weeks (on DVD). Joe admired the sequence so much, he decided to dedicate his life to film-making and storytelling. He has a degree in Cinema and Media Studies from York University. Joe loves DC superheroes (especially Superman), the first six Star Wars movies, and arguing about media with anyone who will listen.

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