I’m breaking no new ground by saying the internet is the place for hyperbole, hot takes, drastic statements of absolutely, and false dichotomies, including, but not limited to film criticism. “The Batman is the greatest superhero movie of all time!” “Morbius is the worst superhero movie of all time!” While The Batman may be great, and Morbius might be terrible, it’s highly unlikely that either of these statements are actually true. That might be the economy we deal in as people who write and talk about movies, but I try hard to stay away from those kinds of statements. Which is why it’s no small thing when I say that Everything Everywhere All at Once is all but guaranteed to be in my top spot come December and January, and that it will be there or higher come the end of the decade. Yes, it’s that special, and that game changing.
It comes from theDaniels (the collective moniker for writer-director tandem Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert), the directors of Swiss Army Man, starring Paul Dano as a suicidal man on a deserted island who finds Daniel Radcliffe’s farting, singing corpse. Swiss Army Man is also one of the most wild and out there, yet earnest movies I have ever seen. If you buy into what the film is trying to do, then there’s a good chance it will just blow you away. It’s done so for me many times. So when the Daniels teamed up with A24 yet again to create an ambitious multiverse movie starring Michelle Yeoh and Short Round from Temple of Doom (Ke Huy Quan), I was immediately on board. Queue, Everything Everywhere All at Once.
Right from the start, this film fits Daniels’ typical sensibilities. Swiss Army Man and Scheinert’s solo directorial outing, The Death of Dick Long, are interested in characters who are already on the edge, or who are pushed to the edge early on in the movie. Everything Everywhere does the former. Evelyn (Yeoh) and Waymond Wang (Quan) are Chinese immigrants who own and operate a laundromat, have a daughter who wants them to accept her and the woman she loves, are being audited by the IRS, and have Evelyn’s disapproving father coming to visit from China. While in the elevator at the IRS building, Waymond is suddenly seemingly possessed, when in reality, a version of himself from a different universe has come to tell Evelyn she’s the only one who can stop the end of the world, if only she accepts what she has to do.
It’s a Matrix-inspired — or, more broadly, Wachowski-inspired — premise in which the main character, who lives a dull, boring life is given a binary choice to unlock abilities she didn’t even know she could unlock. Referencing The Matrix might be doing Everything Everywhere a disservice though, because this is entirely it’s own thing. To compare it to other movies beyond giving context is mostly reductive. It tackles the multiverse in its own way, and only uses the wide-ranging sci-fi topic as a means to communicate its message. And instead of the stoic, coolness of Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, and Carrie-Anne Moss, we have the deeply emotional and dynamic lead performance from Yeoh, and a magnetic, and lively return performance from Quan. Like the movie itself, these performances will be talked about for a long time. And that’s not even to mention a supporting cast that includes Stephanie Hsu, James Hong, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Jenny Slate.
In a Twitter thread, Kwan described the motivation for making this movie as coming from a place where everything was too much. He says, “There is just too much. Too much to think about, too much to hold on to, too much to fight against. Too many people to talk to, too many restaurants to eat at, and definitely, definitely too many movies to watch.” So he and Scheinert made a movie about what it feels like to be overstimulated. Not only is Evelyn in over her head in every facet of her day-to-day life in the first universe we encounter her in, but once her mind is opened to all the different versions of herself, so much new is opened up to her.
The overstimulated mind of the viewers, and therefore, the would-be overstimulating aura of the film as a whole would be too much in literally any other film. But the Daniels’ carefully curated brand of earnest irreverence grounds this one in a way which never makes you never feel lost, even amidst the seemingly infinite universes and versions of the same characters that are shown though the fairly hefty 139-minute runtime. You can see people with hot dog fingers, a raccoon named Raccoccoonie (who’s now the best cinematic raccoon, for my money), characters activating their fighting powers by shoving items up their rear ends, futuristic temples, rocks with googly eyes, Jamie Lee Curtis stapling paper to her forehead, and an all-powerful everything bagel and not feel confused, overwhelmed, or checked out simply because of the Daniels’ ability to center all of this around a core thematic idea of accepting everything, everywhere, all at once and making it smaller — not letting it overwhelm you. Allow yourself to focus on the simple things that do really matter when you’re predisposed to crumble under the weight of everything that doesn’t actually matter.
This has been the directors’ strength throughout their career — their ability to make you care deeply amidst a tidal wave of little, weird ideas that just amuse them. But since they believe in the silliness, as the viewer, you begin to as well; it’s also because there’s so much beyond the silliness. Daniels have a mature understanding of the world, yet they communicate it in a way that’s often thought of as immature. But that’s the very idea they push back against in their films, particularly Swiss Army Man, which is looking more and more like it was just a test run for what this duo is capable of cinematically.
Inside a movie that has wildly creative action sequences, off-kilter, but accessible humor, a frenetic editing style, a score by Son Lux that won’t be quickly forgotten, and a premise that could appear inaccessible at face value, Kwan and Scheinert ground Everything Everywhere All at Once in true human connection. It’s the only reason for anything — the only reason to even attempt to make order out of everything that comes at us constantly. I left the theater having teared up no less than three times because of the way the film hits you out of absolutely nowhere with its emotional gut punches. The weirdness is put forward as normalcy. It’s a towering, all-time cinematic, emotional, and human achievement that embraces the chaos and transforms it into true, human order.