Film Review: Everything Everywhere All at Once

Thoughts on a Multiverse with No Avengers

It’s tough to write a response to a movie about everything everywhere all at once. One version of Dillon says one thing. Another says another. Another says another. And so on and so on and so on. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what every version of myself would say about this film by The Daniels but it seems that each Dillon’s review would be underscored by a single word, which is of course, wow. 

Wow, as in, I can’t think of anything to say. Wow, as in, I can think of everything to say. Wow. Someone who–for better or for worse– seemingly has words for everything had to take many days to formulate how to talk about this particular cinematic gem. I left completely overwhelmed (and still feel some sense of that as I try to wrap this film up in one coherent review).  The movie is completely overwhelming in all the right ways– total sensory overload firing on 1000 cylinders the entire time.  And it is completely mesmerizing. 

Image courtesy of A24

I’ve got to start somewhere so let me start with the cons. The list is short and inconsequential as the sum is so much more than its parts. I just have this to say in any sort of negative light— a movie about the multiverse is always going to be inherently messy in one way or another. It’s impossible for our impossibly human brains to perfectly button up any story that messes with the almighty time and space continuum. The details with the earpieces and the ways in which we universe jump are inconsistent and the idea that other versions of ourselves involves the inhabiting of inanimate objects is, of course, ridiculous (though the scene where our leading ladies are portrayed as rocks is a true highlight, a scene that the audience at my viewing rapturously responded to). But neither of these things take away from the story. So I think we can move on, because again, the movie is a terrific amalgamation of its outlandish, stupendous, heart-filled parts. 

And what a story I mean, what!? For such a complicated, bombastic plot, the themes are quite simple: forgiveness, kindness, beauty in the mundanity of life, and what it means to embody our potential. What do we think is the highest version of ourselves and why does the universe leave that up to us? I don’t want to get into the specifics about how we’re gifted the time to explore those themes in this film because one, it’s impossible to do so without giving away the movies intricacies and two, because why would I spoil the fun of this roller coaster ride of a film?! Let’s just say it involves kung-fu, fanny packs, dirty laundry, a giant bagel, rocks on the edge of a cliff, an angry IRS agent, butt plugs, fresh noodles, and a whole lot of goggly eyes. 

And it’s impossible to separate this film from Michelle Yeoh’s titanic central performance.  Well, let me back up before I get ahead of myself.  For starters, the cast is uniform perfection. Stephanie Hsu will soon be unstoppable when the world see what she accomplishes in this film, Jamie Lee Curtis, decades upon decades into her career is proving why she’s been working nonstop (this is my favorite performance of hers ever, she contains more bravado than I ever knew), James Hong, at over 90 years of age, is more full of life and nuance than I’ve ever seen him, not once phoning in his performance, and the magnificent Ke Huy Quan (who you may recognize from The Goonies or Indiana Jones) is truly out of this world brilliant, channeling kung-fu legends, dramatic heartthrobs, invisible husbands, lovelorn fathers, the list goes on and on. Much of the emotion I found pouring out of me as I watched was brought on by simple looks thrown by Quan, the emotional back bone of many of the films most emotional sequences. Not to be that guy in mid-April, but it’s Oscar worthy work.  Anyway, back to Ms. Yeoh. 

Image courtesy of A24

Michelle Yeoh is an international star in the truest sense, having conquered action, drama, comedy, you name it, she’s proven she can do it. What’s so special about this role is that she gets to combine all of those skills into one firework of a performance. She’s able to inject her familiar badass-ery into many moments (truly, this movie takes advantage of her entire tool belt), but what’s more impressive is how she’s able to inject her less customary physical comedy and deep pathos into the moments in between. She’s able to evoke so much emotion with just an understanding stare, just an upward glance, just a cutting phrase laced with equal parts critique and celebration. It’s the kind of performance that I truly believe people will discuss for years to come. It’s the type of performance that’s undeniable by even its toughest critics. It’s the type of performance that changes the zeitgeist for good by turning an Asian woman-of-a-certain-age into a superhero. It truly can’t be overstated. 

Overall, the movie is unlike anything you’ve ever seen and produced by the Russo Brothers which makes me respect them so much more— they took their Marvel money and invested it into filmmakers with a wholly unique vision, I only hope more Disney/Marvel folks do the same. Technically, the editing is a monumental achievement, some of the best I’ve ever seen. The set design is inventive and innovative (they turn a laundromat and an IRS building into a million different worlds). And the Easter eggs and homages to films of yesteryear are a movie lovers wet dream (there is an In the Mood for Love sequence/sendup that took my breath away). You could read these thoughts and take my word for it but I beg of you, support this movie. See it on the biggest screen you can.

I’ll leave you with this. A friend posed the following question to me after we’d both seen the film: “Even though it’s largely focused on an intergenerational Asian-American family did you still relate?” I answered with a resounding, “yes.” Of course I still related. Because the best films set their sights on something specific in an effort to turn their gaze up to something universal. It’s entirely centered on an Asian-American family but there is something in it for everyone. One might even say, even, that there is everything everywhere all at once.

Image courtesy of A24

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