Have you ever felt that the films of Baz Luhrmann and Michael Bay dragged a little? Do you need more edits? Faster action? More kablooey and kablam? Well, to paraphrase SNL’s Stefon, “America’s hottest movie, Everything Everywhere All At Once has everything! Talking Rocks! Hot dog fingers! Backwards whooshing office chairs! A Sharpie wielding Halloween star!” Who knew, however, that it would live up to that hype and more, easily becoming one of the best films of 2022?
The Daniels, Dan Kwan and Daniel Schienert, who last brought us the delightfully fantastical Swiss Army Man, return with an explosive (although with no farts this time) yet beautifully character-driven film which is literally about, as the title implies, EVERYTHING. Michelle Yeoh plays Evelyn Wang, a downtrodden laundromat owner who lives a financially desperate, hardworking life with her husband Waymond (the triumphant return of Ke Huy Kwan, best known for his roles in Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom and The Goonies), daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) and Grandpa Gong Gong (James Hong).
When we meet Evelyn, she’s exhausted from her workload, strained in her marriage, and dreading an upcoming meeting with the IRS. Enter Jamie Lee Curtis, in an unforgettable performance, as Deirdre Beaubeirdra, a joyless tax auditor who has never met a part of her body she hasn’t scratched. She has it out for the Wangs, issuing an ultimatum to get their receipts together or face the consequences. With all of the pressure reaching a boiling point and seemingly no way out, a surprise twist throws Evelyn and her family into one insane adventure after another; fracturing timelines, universes, and offering up a “Sliding Doors on acid” premise guaranteed to make the most kinetic of directors green with envy. It gets very complicated with its kitchen sink approach, with some interludes feeling random or interchangeable, but I found it worth the ticket price alone for the image of Curtis flying in slow motion through the air to face off against Yeoh in just one of many heartstopping moments. Special mention must go to Larkin Seiple for his phenomenal cinematography, Shirley Kurata for ten films worth of insightful, memorable costume design, and Jason Kisvarday’s production design, which features an impressive, memorable array of styles.
Through it all, Yeoh navigates the impossible, playing a huge swath of characters, explosively executing complicated action sequences, and making us feel something deeply for our central heroine. She’s giving the performance of her career here, able to capture our hearts while concurrently displaying the entire gamut of brittle neuroses in her wheelhouse. She plays so many different characters, some seemingly autobiographical, all of whom have a level of confidence and empowerment lacking in Evelyn herself.
When Waymond steps in to motivate her, the movie really takes off with a series of brilliantly executed action sequences. Kwan, whose voice seems to have not aged a day, keeps up with Yeoh, delivering a heartfelt, fun, fast and furious performance all while doing flips and kicks guaranteed to earn him Instant Hunk status. It’s so wonderful to have him back after years of giving up on acting. Here’s to many more films to come.
Also of note is Hsu, who starts off as the detached daughter from her family for not fully supporting her queerness. She, like the rest of her relatives, finds her own special superpowers, elevating her to icon status before the film ends. Who wouldn’t want this badass to kick down a few doors for them? I was also very touched by the mother-daughter relationship depicted here. It succinctly gives so many young queer people the tools and language for having tough conversations with their parents. Kudos to this slam bang film for having educational purpose too, filled as it is with nuance and grace far beyond what one expects from a genre film.
What genre this is, however, is a great question. It’s no accident that the Everything Bagel plays such an important part in this story, as this film wants to touch on every aspect of all of our lives. It’s about race, immigration, marriage, family, desire, scraping by and finding a way to love life even when it has turned to complete shit. One could easily find this premise to be overstuffed and repetitive. They would not be wrong. The last act, filled with head-spinning intercutting between the various universes drags on a bit, making me want to cry, “Enough already!” once or twice. Also, when trying to tackle every single subject matter that there ever was, there’s a good argument to be made that it cannot succeed at them all. Fair enough, but the film is so winning, so exciting, and so well-acted, I wouldn’t mind watching Evelyn and her family try to tackle another day, and another one after that…or maybe EVERY SINGLE day!
By Glenn Gaylord, Senior Film Critic
Everything Everywhere All At Once is currently playing in theaters worldwide. All the theaters. Every last single one of them!