Everything Everywhere All at Once might be the most aptly-titled movie ever. It's science-fiction, comedy, drama, martial-arts, and action all rolled together. At one point, it even briefly becomes an animated film. The directors are Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (collectively known as “Daniels”), who previously made Swiss Army Man, a delightfully wacky comedy in which Daniel Radcliffe plays a flatulent corpse. They've outdone themselves this time, packing their new effort with wall-to-wall creativity. I feel bad for anyone who has to get up to use the restroom during this picture, because if you miss even a single minute of it, you miss a lot.
Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) runs a laundromat and refers to her customers by unflattering nicknames. She's a bitter woman, and that has led to husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) planning to serve her with divorce papers. Complicating matters further, Evelyn is trying to prevent her traditional, judgmental father Gong Gong (James Hong) from finding out that her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) is gay and has a girlfriend. Before she can fully deal with any of that, she has to meet with a nasty IRS agent, Deirdre Beaubeirdra (Jamie Lee Curtis), to sort out her messed-up taxes.
On the way in to Deirdre's office, Waymond's affect changes, as if his body has been taken over. (It has.) He informs her that there's a multiverse, and every seemingly benign choice she makes causes a new branch to form. Worse, that multiverse is being threatened by a malevolent entity named Jobu Tupaki, which has taken the form of Joy. Evelyn is the only one who might be able to stop her. In order to do this, she will have to “verse-jump” from one timeline to another in order to access necessary powers. From there, Evelyn goes on a wild adventure that finds her bouncing around that multiverse, seeing herself in various life paths, including one where she becomes an actress.
Everything Everywhere All at Once is a movie that constantly reinvents itself. The amount of planning that must have gone into it is staggering. There are in-jokes that the film creates, then refers back to. There are out-of-nowhere pop culture references, including a running gag that spoofs Pixar's Ratatouille and a bit where Waymond randomly incorporates lyrics from the Nine Days song ”Absolutely (The Story of a Girl)” into a conversation. Scenes begin in one timeline and end in another, making several additional stops in between. Things that appear to be non sequiturs pop back up later on, revealing great meaning. A key moment is conveyed through a rapid-fire montage of images that come so fast, it makes the theater you're sitting in feel like it's strobing. In every way, the film is a perfectly-executed example of controlled chaos.
Daniels modulate the tone beautifully, balancing different vibes. Parts of the film are hilariously funny. In order to verse-jump to a timeline for a skill, Evelyn has to perform an action wholly inappropriate to her present situation so the branching will expedite itself. This leads her to do stuff like rubbing hand sanitizer in her eyes or spontaneously disco dancing in a perilous situation. Martial-arts fight scenes, meanwhile, are exciting, employing excellent stunt work and clever staging. Right before the start of the final act, the story abruptly goes from frenzied to completely still, then back to frenzied. I won't say why, but that beat feels poignant rather than artificial.
Everything Everywhere All at Once ties its crazy, unpredictable occurrences into Evelyn's personal life, so there's an important human undercurrent. By the story's end, you realize how much the themes of seeking happiness, choosing one's own destiny, and familial love have been woven into the mayhem. Without that intimate factor, the picture would have been technically impressive, yet empty. With it, you may find yourself unexpectedly moved. Acting is across-the-board outstanding. Yeoh makes Evelyn's journey affecting, Quan masterfully differentiates between multiple incarnations of Waymond, Hsu vividly brings Joy's discontent to life, and Curtis disappears into the role of the dowdy, aging IRS drone.
I love movies that write their own rules and take big chances. Everything Everywhere All at Once does just that. This is bold, brave filmmaking. Saying “you don't know what's going to happen from one minute to the next” has become a cliché. In this case, the saying is totally true. The experience of watching something this completely original is exhilarating. It's a masterpiece.
out of four
Everything Everywhere All at Once is rated R for some violence, sexual material and language. The running time is 2 hours and 19 minutes.