Move over, Doctor Strange — there’s a new multiverse in town.
The brainchild of directing duo Daniels (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, known for “Swiss Army Man” and their viral “Turn Down for What” music video), “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is a multiverse movie. It’s also a superhero movie, in a way. Sound familiar? Probably — and you might start thinking to yourself (be it disappointedly or cheerfully), “Oh, it’s one of those ones.” Either way, prepare to have all of your expectations shattered, because you have never encountered a movie like this. It is a beautifully messy, irresistibly eclectic amalgamation of genres and moods, a cinematic embodiment of “all gas, no brakes” that will leave you rooted to your seat for two and a half hours in giddy excitement. You might cry, you’ll probably laugh and you will undoubtedly leave the theater thinking: what the (expletive) did I just watch?
In “Everything Everywhere,” Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh, “Crazy Rich Asians”) is a Chinese American immigrant who runs a laundromat with her husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan, “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”). Between struggling with taxes — the business is under an IRS audit — and juggling a host of other obligations, she has her hands full. Already close to her breaking point, things take a strange turn for Evelyn when she encounters an alternate version of Waymond from another universe, who gives her the usual spiel on how she is the only one who can save the multiverse from a mysterious being by the name of Jobu Tupaki. But that’s where the conventionalities end — thrust into the role of the unlikely savior, Evelyn’s hero’s journey only gets weirder and wilder.
This is, by all accounts, a delightfully funny romp. The quips never stop coming, and they come with indefatigable pace and energy. Its sense of humor is often propelled by its simultaneous awareness of its own status as a movie, and of cinematic history. At so many junctures, it seems to say: yeah, we know you’ve seen this, but have you ever seen it done like THIS? The diverse roster of universes it explores is a clear-cut opportunity to poke fun at a slate of iconic works, such as “Ratatouille” and “2001: A Space Odyssey” (specifically, the famous ape fight scene). It pays homage to others more reverentially, with nods to the entrancing visuals of Wong Kar-wai’s “In the Mood for Love” and the highly stylized, frenziedly kinetic action of classic Hong Kong kung fu films which knowing audiences will appreciate. (In fact, the film was initially conceived with Jackie Chan in mind for the lead role.) This likely sounds like a borderline absurd mishmash of references and tendencies, and, to an extent, it is. But Kwan and Scheinert infuse their creation with just enough connective tissue to tie it all together, and the film goes about its business like the prototype of a hybrid supercar — it’s inventive, fast and superbly stylish.
For how exuberantly hilarious “Everything Everywhere” is, it also shines in its more profound and tender moments. Essentially, the concept behind its multiverse is that for every action a person takes, a diverging set of possibilities is generated, each of which branches off into a new universe. Through the butterfly effect, different combinations of choices could eventually lead to vastly differing outcomes. If this is the case, then why does anything matter at all? Though the film never ventures too deep into the philosophy itself, the pitting of characters’ existentialist and nihilist worldviews against one another lends it emotional weight and bridges the gap between its grander and more intimate thematic explorations.
The film’s heartfelt nature is bolstered by strong performances all around. Yeoh’s acting prowess is on full display as Evelyn undergoes a thorough transformation — from unassuming business owner to badass interdimensional martial arts hero, and from strained wife and mother to staunch family woman. Ke Huy Quan impresses in his first major on-screen role in twenty years, flip-flopping between the meek, soft-spoken version of regular Waymond and his charismatic “Alphaverse” counterpart (pretty self-explanatory). Stephanie Hsu (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”) infuses Evelyn’s rebellious teenage daughter, Joy, with panache. As a grizzled IRS inspector, Jamie Lee Curtis (“Halloween”) — one of the only non-Asian members of the cast — is equal parts terrifying and a hoot. This is indeed a landmark movie for Asian representation; the cast’s diversity is reflected in the cultural dimension that the story takes on. Chinese culture is celebrated and treated with a degree of sensitivity and relatability not often seen in products of Hollywood. A surefire win in my books.
“Everything Everywhere All at Once” is what happens when you take an original, conceptually ambitious idea and actualize it almost flawlessly. It has everything you could possibly want in a movie, and more. Go watch it.
Daily Arts Writer Adrian Hui can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.