Filmmakers Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinart, better known together as “Daniels,” are a duo that bring some of the most unique sensibilities to modern cinema as we know it. The masses likely got their first introduction to their style thanks to their audacious music video for DJ Snake and Lil Jon’s “Turn Down For What.” But their directorial debut with Swiss Army Man was what really put them on the map as some of the most distinct indie filmmakers on the scene. The Daniels managed to craft a film with such a ridiculous premise involving a lonesome Paul Dano stranded on a deserted island whose only companion is a farting corpse played by Daniel Radcliffe and made it into both a relentlessly funny, and emotionally-rich story about friendship. With their newest directorial effort Everything Everywhere All At Once, the Daniels go on to craft an even bolder film: one that tackles the ever-so popular Multiverse concept. The results? Well, we get an instant genre classic.
Michelle Yeoh plays Evelyn Wang, a Chinese-American woman who runs a struggling laundromat with her husband Waymond, played by Ke Huy Quan. Evelyn has a daughter named Joy Wang, played by Stephanie Hsu, and has a rocky relationship with her, which only makes the inevitable visit from her very traditional father played by James Hong all the more stressful. While meeting with Deidre, an IRS inspector played by Jamie Lee Curtis, Evelyn is whisked away by an alternate version of Waymond from a different universe, who calls on her to bring back balance to the Multiverse after things spiral out of control. Through this, Evelyn must connect with the different versions of herself, as she embarks on one of the most hilarious, action-packed, touching, and profound hero’s journeys cinema has seen in the last 10 years.
As you can tell given the cinematic landscape right now, especially when it comes to blockbuster entertainment, the concept of the Multiverse has become the hottest thing. 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse brought much of its prominence to mainstream audiences, which inevitably led to both Marvel Studios and DC Films to embrace the concept thanks to the likes of Spider-Man: No Way Home bringing back both Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield on screen alongside current Peter Parker actor Tom Holland, or both the upcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and The Flash looking to explore similar concepts. But rather than using the Multiverse approach to bring back characters audiences have a pre-established nostalgia for, Everything Everywhere All At Once uses it to tell a human story about the excess of life, how the state of the world and our own personal circumstances feel like their crushing into us, and how often we wonder to ourselves, “What if I did this with my life instead?”
Through Everything Everywhere All At Once, we get a story of a woman going through her own mid-life crisis, as the stresses of the world are all crashing into her. According to the Daniels, Evelyn suffers from undiagnosed ADHD, and the film perfectly encapsulates the feelings of zoning out from certain situations as one’s mind may wander into different ideas in their head. In this case, Evelyn literally ends up wandering into different worlds through the Multiverse, and through the extremities of the sci-fi genre, showcases how much stress and unresolved personal trauma she has dealt with since she moved to the United States with her husband Waymond. Oftentimes throughout life, whenever one may feel dissatisfied with their position, they often wonder how better off they may be if they chose a different path. Evelyn’s alternate versions offer varying answers to that question she often asks herself, in some cases, they show her off to be someone with many unfulfilled dreams, which makes this version of herself the prime candidate to bring back balance to the Multiverse.
Everything Everywhere All At Once showcases some of the most inventive visuals in any film of its genre. In fact, it’s hard to pinpoint this film into one genre. Yes, the Multiverse aspect of the story puts it right in the sci-fi territory, but it’s also a martial arts action film and a romantic dramedy. The Daniels showcase the unique directorial sensibilities they displayed in Swiss Army Man and cranked it up to eleven with this film. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and The Flash seem to be exciting films, but it will be hard to top this one as the most bizarre, inventive and heartfelt story to bring this concept to life.
At the heart of the film, however, is Evelyn herself. Michelle Yeoh gives the performance of her career, perfectly capturing a woman grappling with her own mid-life crisis as well as living with her undiagnosed ADHD. She excels in the emotional scenes, the comedic scenes, and the action scenes. Sometimes, she has to do all of that, well… all at once.
Another standout of the film is none other than Ke Huy Quan as Waymond. Audiences will likely remember him mostly from his iconic childhood roles as Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and as Data in The Goonies. Quan involuntarily left acting behind sometime after his famous roles due to the fact that as an Asian actor, there were not many opportunities for him. However, after he watched Crazy Rich Asians, he felt FOMO, and opted to return to acting. Everything Everywhere All At Once showcases the charismatic star Quan always was, and in some ways, the Daniels give the actor justice in giving him the opportunity to shine, leaving audiences to realize the decades of work we missed out on given that Hollywood sorely lacked the imagination to give him roles that he deserved.
Stephanie Hsu, who readers of this site may recognize as Soo, Shaun and Katy’s friend from Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, is perhaps the breakout star of this film. She plays Joy with so much depth, and without giving too much away, the way in which the film portrays her in the alternate universes showcases her as one of the most exciting rising talents in the industry. So much so that Marvel Studios may want to expand her role in the Shang-Chi sequel.
Jamie Lee Curtis is also quite remarkable as Deidre, the IRS inspector of Evelyn’s nightmares. She effortlessly brings out the grating nature of the character that as the film goes on, audiences realize that there is perhaps a bit more beyond her unsettling surface – especially when we witness some of her alternate versions from different universes.
So much about Everything Everywhere All At Once is only worth discussing when going into spoiler detail, but because the film is so dense with its brilliant themes and visual extremities, its best not to give anything away in this review. The film is currently playing nationwide in theaters everywhere, and for moviegoers that often complain about Hollywood running out of ideas, that all we get these days are films based on already-established intellectual properties and that filmmakers aren’t able to showcase their original sensibilities without studio meddling, well, this is the right film for you.
It’s incredible that A24 exists as one of the premier independent film studios in the world. Their slate of films are some of the most brilliant that any cinephile can watch. Everything Everywhere All At Once stands amongst the studio’s greatest films, alongside the likes of the Academy Award-winning Moonlight as a film that will help define its legacy in cinematic history. Sitting down in the theater watching this film for the first time, one feels similarly to how audiences felt when they watched The Matrix in 1999. Is it too early to call the Daniels the Wachowskis of their time? Well, comparing two directorial duos wouldn’t do justice to either of them, so either way, the Daniels are on their way to crafting a legacy of their own in making films that literally no other filmmakers are making today, and as bizarre as their premises seem on the surface, at their core, their films engage the heart in the most tender ways. Yes, Everything Everywhere All At Once is a masterpiece, and perhaps, an instant classic.
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