Editor’s Note: There is a multitude of fascinating cinematic techniques and thematic concepts on display in “Everything Everywhere All at Once”, but to discuss them in-depth would spoil the many surprises Daniels has in store for you. As such, this review is only a taste of what to expect from this other-worldly sci-fi epic.
The concept of the multiverse in cinema has been dominated by comic book films, like those in the Marvel and DC cinematic universes. However, all the superheroes combined would barely be able to muster up a fight against directing duo Daniels and their wildly original sci-fi multiverse epic, Everything Everywhere All at Once. Daniels’ latest is gargantuan in scope and plentiful in comedic concepts, but it’s the film’s commitment to exploring the power of optimism and family that makes this one of the best sci-fi films of the decade.
Everything Everywhere All at Once opens on Evelyn Wang, a Chinese laundromat owner, who is just trying to keep her family together and her business protected from an no-nonsense IRS auditor named Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis). However, after an tense encounter with an alternate universe version of her husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), Evelyn must become the verse-jumping hero the multiverse needs in order to defeat the mysterious Jobu Tupaki.
As director Dan Kwan (one half of Daniels) mentioned at the start of the SXSW Opening Night screening of the film, “How do you talk about everything?” It’s a sentiment that rings true as I write this review, as Everything Everywhere All at Once is overflowing with wild, wacky, and mind-blowing elements. For instance, In order for Evelyn and her adversaries to “unlock” their abilities from another universe (called verse-jumping), they must complete the most random act imaginable in that moment. This concept leads to gut-busting hilarity as it allows Daniels to develop any bonkers moment they want while still making sense in the overall narrative.
Once the characters acquire their verse-jumping abilities, epic and visually inventive fight sequences ensue. Daniels, along with cinematographer Larkin Seiple and the entire stunt team, craft action scenes with a frantic pace and unique style that hasn’t been seen since the original Matrix. For instance, in the first act, Quan uses an old-school fanny pack to precisely take out half a dozen security guards, and looks incredibly bad-ass while doing so.
In fact, the fanny pack sequence perfectly demonstrate the almost impossible tonal balance Daniels have created with Everything Everywhere All at Once: It’s farcical and ridiculous while also being awesome and emotionally impactful. While the first hour of this feature is Daniels’ adaptation of The Matrix on acid, the second half reveals its heartfelt core. For a film that has a climactic dildo “sword” fight, the film’s exploration of mental health, generational trauma, and nihilistic thoughts is incredibly nuanced.
The best films are those that hold a mirror to our deepest thoughts and desires while still remaining an entertaining venture. Everything Everywhere All at Once achieves this duality with ease. The world is in a tumultuous place, but if we heed Daniels’ message in the film of understanding that kindness and familial bonds are our greatest weapons in fighting division, we all might just stand a chance after all.
The Silver Lining
Everything Everywhere All at Once may feature the best ensemble of the year so far, Ke Huy Quan’s multidimensional acting is the standout amongst the phenomenal performers. After a nearly two decade hiatus from acting, Quan is back in full force as three different versions of Evelyn’s husband, Waymond. For each iteration of his character, Quan has crafted a wholly unique character, complete with different mannerisms, movements, and vocal patterns. It’s an inventive performance that is only heightened by the actor’s earnestness. In a film as wacky as this, Quan is the much needed emotional core thoughout.
SXSW 2022 official selection, Everything Everywhere All at Once, opens in NY & LA on March 25th and in theaters nationwide on April 8th.