Everything Everywhere All At Once reminded me to hug my parents tighter. Raccoons are suddenly my new favourite animal. I may have opened a new universe by writing this review later than sooner. I couldn’t imagine these takeaways from a movie filled to the brim with martial arts and sci-fi fun. But this is very much an immigrant’s plight best understood with metaphors.
Tear-jerking twists and all. I laughed, nearly choked on my sugar-free Coke and cried (twice). More importantly, I thought about loving my reality more than the film’s weirder ones. Only because art imitates life. Just as Everything Everywhere All At Once is a love letter to leaving life and building a better one.
Without spoilers, Everything Everywhere All At Once is a Chinese-American perspective of the American Dream. Viewers are easily kept over the shoulders of Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), who runs a laundromat on its last legs. She’s restless, overworked and struggling to file IRS taxes. Yeoh wonderfully keeps this world as serious as it can be. Complete with a Chinese mom’s tough affection that might puzzle some. But leave the most outgrown Asian adults wincing in second-hand embarrassment. Joy Wang (Stephanie Hsu) struggles to keep up with her mother ahead of a make-or-break IRS meeting. In the first 10 minutes, Everything Everywhere All At Once effectively builds a hectic world without uttering “multiverse.”
Yeoh naturally paces back and forth across different roles. It’s a thrill seeing Evelyn adapt to every universe’s twist. From a multiverse with sausage fingers, Bruce Lee-esque fame and dystopian offices, each one is fascinating in short bursts. Viewers will also be laughing as Evelyn first stumbles on these worlds at first.
Everything Everywhere All At Once doesn’t just push Michelle Yeoh’s acting under these situations. It also highlights her bold action-comedy chops which carry the film throughout. Her character development is easily the strongest focus of Everything Everywhere All At Once. Its direction keeps viewers over Evelyn’s determination to protect her family. I never felt completely lost as the film kept jumping across random places. While Yeoh rolls with every punch, jump and deft narrative twist.
Some quick exposition dumps at the start can still leave viewers behind in Everything Everywhere All At Once. I’ll admit the film can be hard to keep up with at the first act. As multiverses and timelines mysteriously appear on the big screen, Everything Everywhere All At Once suffers from pacing issues. But most questions about the multiverse are answered in hilarious ways. The film cleverly uses recurring gags, inside jokes and metaphors to remind viewers where they’re at.
Smart writing even threw in a bagel as a plot device, which sent my audience laughing at every mention. The incredibly self-aware dialogue between Evelyn and Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) mixes sci-fi jargon. Unapologetically, Everything Everywhere All At Once does what it can to break reality. A tissue might come in handy when the film does drop breadcrumbs to reality.
Much of Everything Everywhere All At Once centers on its multiverses. The theme is brilliantly used to keep viewers intrigued, immersed and hooked over a two-plus hour runtime. As mentioned, not everyone can keep up at first. Patience is key. Things start to make sense, even as characters do random things at first. The multiverse theory is best described as a choice-based one. Simple actions like saying yes or no can open two possible timelines.
Making different career choices creates all kinds of selves. Of course, these alternative versions of people are full of unique skills. Characters find ways to make questionable choices, in order to tap into each multiverse and gain their skills. Everything Everywhere All At Once describes this as “verse-jumping,” which adds a fresh twist to Hollywood’s new favourite sci-fi plot device.
Verse-jumping an easy-to-follow rule that leads to all kinds of wacky shenanigans in Everything Everywhere All At Once. The film even takes this choice-driven rule to extremes, leading to characters paper cutting themselves to gain martial arts skills. It was harder to not laugh at the cast doing weird things out of survival. In Evelyn’s case, viewers are with her every step of the way. Shy of spoilers, Michelle Yeoh puts her martial arts choreography to amazing use against the film’s baddies.
Especially against the Terminator-like IRS inspector Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis). Deidre might surprise audiences across action scenes. But her presence in the hot dog finger universe is pure sketch comedy that made my ticket stub priceless. Viewers will easily keep up with all the strange sights. Eyes will feast on every smoothly-shot fight scene. A few verse-jumping twists and raunchier gags keep Everything Everywhere All At Once’s action fresh. CGI effects and all.
“Everything Everywhere All At Once marks Quan’s return to acting for the first time in 20 years.”
Indiana Jones, and Goonies actor Ke Huy Quan is an absolute treasure as Evelyn’s husband, Raymond Wang. Everything Everywhere All At Once marks Quan’s return to acting for the first time in 20 years. It’s hard to nitpick when Quan plays a husband, father, stranger and martial arts badass simultaneously. Like Moon Knight’s Marc Spector, Waymond Wang changes personalities instantly in Everything Everywhere All At Once. Quan impressively jumps from reality and into his “variants” with ease. This non-stop performance gives viewers fun, sympathy and heartbreak throughout.
Quan’s performance comes to a full head in scenes with Michelle Yeoh. Their chemistry comes off believable enough as a couple. While the film’s immigration themes lead to some bitter pills to swallow for audiences. Here’s where Chinese audiences like myself fell into a visual understanding of my parent’s struggles.
Everything Everywhere All At Once puts Quan and Yeoh’s performances to the test as a loving couple. So much that I imagined my own parents taking that real-life risk to be together against all hardships. The film hits a surprisingly sharp attention to detail with language barriers, institutional racism, ageing traditions and culture shock. This is one of the more emotional themes Everything Everywhere All At Once uses to stay grounded. But I leave that for audiences to see as those moments come.
Legendary actor James Hong plays Gong Gong (Cantonese for grandfather). Everything Everywhere All At Once reserves his presence for deeper emotional beats. His role identifies him as a traditionally-rooted elder for Evelyn’s family. Viewers might be thrown off by his role as friend or foe – something the film has lots of fun with. Demanding, imposing and hard to impress, Evelyn struggles to keep Gong Gong happy. Naturally, he flips the script in English, Mandarin and Cantonese much to my delight. Everything Everywhere All At Once knows Hong’s role is best delivered in short bursts. While his variant’s backstory reveal made me grin uncontrollably as Evelyn struggled to get a grip early on.
“Everything Everywhere All At Once is very much a story about family.”
Everything Everywhere All At Once is very much a story about family. Hardships rest equally on the shoulders of daughter Joy Wang (Stephanie Hsu). Sharing more about her role would give away the film’s biggest twist. While I suggest viewers pay extra attention to Hsu’s powerful performance in a number of multiverses. Hsu still holds her own as a comedic presence.
Her verse-jumps add for some of the most creative gags in Everything Everywhere All At Once. Joy makes the film worth watching for intricate costume design alone. An early fight scene showcases what Joy is capable of in an impossibly funny manner. Constant transitions keep Hsu’s role unpredictable when the film breaks reality in every frame.
The movie’s winning ingredients are plenty. But nothing tastes as bittersweet as Joy’s relationship with her mother. It’s rooted in a complicated clash of values. Evelyn struggles to be a loving mother with traditional, but overbearing forms of affection. The film effectively hits this note with Joy, an American-born Chinese, being shaped with repercussions and extra growing pains. For the record, Hsu and Yeoh’s best scene is delivered without uttering a syllable. It’s brilliant.
Behind all the film’s ever-kaleidoscopic dreams, it manages to stay grounded. Hard. Everything Everywhere All At Once not only captures the immigrant’s plight from one family. It especially lays out the ups and downs for children born with a fresh start. Such delivery could have sucked out the laughing gas that Everything Everywhere All At Once has to offer.
But directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert struck every nerve by meticulously winding up the truth bombs. Audiences are taken through the emotions across different concepts that truly stick at its climax. In fact, the truth bombs are the cherry on top of well-choreographed action scenes. Along with some of the new cinema’s most unapologetically bizzare gags. Mom. Dad. Thank you for making the verse-jump that shaped my universe. I love you always.