Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022) | Movie Review

In a world of multiverses, whose plausibility in cinema has become realized by the likes of Marvel only as early as 2018 with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, it was only a matter of time before the concept of unlimited parallel realities started making an impact on other non-Marvel projects, let alone non-blockbusters. Case in point: Everything Everywhere All at Once, a fantasy/sci-fi martial arts action flick under the guise of an indie character dramedy.

This A24 preemptive cult favorite is one of the most talked about films of 2022, but not because of an astronomical budget (it got a “modest” $25 mil) or a marquee director (helmed by indie filmmakers Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, aka the Daniels, on just their second outing after 2016’s Swiss Army Man). As irony would have it, the Russo brothers of Marvel fame serve as producers. But no, the movie is soaring because of how it utilizes the multiverse concept while also refracting earth-shattering cynicism through an optimistic prism – or maybe vice versa.

Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), owner of the neighborhood laundromat, is being audited by the IRS (via an agent portrayed by a frumpy Jamie Lee Curtis). Her husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), is a sycophantic goofball who’s uncharacteristically serving Evelyn with divorce papers in hopes of getting them out of their insidious funk and saving their marriage. Their daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu), is constantly at odds with Evelyn because of the friction between the two generations, if not standard toxic mother-daughter dynamics.

While the other actors give solid, if not memorable, performances, Yeoh proves that she can absolutely carry a movie. She navigates the roller coaster of complex emotions with grace and conviction, all while giving her role a personal and distinct comedic identity.

Evelyn is a multipotentialite-turned-underachiever. Over the course of the movie she journeys through the subsequent stages of existentialism, from ennui to resentment to disenchantment to anger, and finally to empathy and healing, all the while combating an evil force that’s coming after her in the form of her daughter from another universe. The very elements that make the movie sprawling in theme are also what make it so unique. If this journey through emotional states were the movie itself, it would be enough for a satisfying, if not insightful character study, but Everything Everywhere All at Once utilizes a heavier-than-normal dose of sci-fi to get the job done.

Evelyn is met by Alpha Waymond, her husband from the Alphaverse – a parallel universe where they’ve discovered how to tap into the talents from all of the different multiverse versions of yourself. Because of this, Alpha Waymond knows how to fight like Jackie Chan. Instead of physically leaping across universes, you simply swap brains or download specific skills you’d like to use in this current reality. It gets a little hairy and loose once we get into the nitty gritty of the plot and spontaneous talents swoop in like convenient deus ex machinas.

The rules of the universe aren’t inherently confusing, but the rates in which they’re used and exercised can become cumbersome for the film to uphold and the moviegoer who’s already trying to process the complex character study.

In order to access these skills, characters must find different “jumping pads,” or behaviors and gestures that are so unlikely that they can’t be inadvertent. These actions include, but aren’t limited to, abstract ideas such as giving yourself four simultaneous papercuts, eating large amounts of ChapStick, professing your love to your enemy, or sticking objects up your butt.

Anyone who’s seen the Daniels’ previous film Swiss Army Man understands the Charlie Kaufman-esque oddity with which they like to operate. If Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness utilizes the multiverse as an explanation for our dreams, Everything Everywhere All at Once uses it as a justification for schizophrenia. However, where a typical filmmaker would have the audience guessing about whether or not the plot was an unequivocal reality or an allegorical dream inside Evelyn’s head, the Daniels constantly find clever new ways of informing us of the objectivity of these preposterous events, removing one more obstacle in our acceptance of the film’s verisimilitude.

The bizarre premise yields a highly unique tone, just like most of the Marvel multiverse movies have been doing. But Everything Everywhere All at Once is made for this current Letterboxd Era of moviegoers tired of the same experience delivered by either populace fodder or woke pandering, with little compromise. Albeit confusing empathy with agreeability, this film might just be an experience more than it is a cinematic story, although it’s that as well.

Perhaps a literal expression of the adage, “When ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise,” this movie is about the disillusionment that too much knowledge can afford you. However, it doesn’t just sit on its nihilistic views, but empathizes with them while finding an alternative solution. What’s most impressive is the evolution of themes that ultimately results in this unconventional hero’s journey, where the hero both suffers from self-absorption and benefits from compassion.

Oddly similar to the multiverse motifs in the latest Doctor Strange movie, Everything Everywhere All at Once isn’t necessarily about mentally or emotionally overcoming our ennui but about finding reasons to live despite our disillusionment and any ostensible meaninglessness we’ve perceived life to have; that our purpose can be found in the way we treat other people who may or may not be as “wise” as we are. In a world where our conditional happiness often contradicts our unconditional love, empathy is what allows us to accept the latter taking control.

Twizard Rating: 95

Originally published at Popzara.com


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