Until the trailer for this was released, this was a film that wasn’t really on my radar. However, the second I finished with the trailer, it immediately became one of my most anticipated films. I loved the prior film that Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (aka Daniels) directed, Swiss Army Man, and their style felt really well suited for a multiverse film and they have a talent at turning absurd premises into really touching stories, which they brought to the show here to great effect.
The film follows Evelyn Wang, a Chinese immigrant in America who owns a laundry, but is having issues with her taxes, facing an audit by the IRS, and marital problems with her husband Waymond, along with worries over her dad, Gong Gong, who has arrived from China, and her daughter, Joy, fearing that Evelyn does not accept her girlfriend, Becky. Whilst at the IRS audit, Evelyn is contacted by Alpha Waymond, a Waymond from another universe who introduces Evelyn to the concept of the multiverse and tells her that she is the only hope at stopping Jobu Tupaki, a multiversal threat who can experience all realities at the same time, who has created something which could potentially destroy the multiverse. There is a bit of a boom in multiverse films right now, mainly in superhero films, but this film helps to show all the possibilities that can be done with such a concept, mainly in terms of genre. The film rapidly switches between genres throughout, going from a more mundane, workplace drama in one scene to martial arts in another to sweeping romance. It would be very easy for the genre switch to feel out of place but the film knows when and how to switch genres, ensuring that each one feels natural. It also knows that this has to be a character piece looking at Evelyn, her life and regrets and showing how the experience of the multiverse and the alternate lives she could have lived changes her. Through this, there are interesting ideas at play over existentialism and nihilism, which leads to some really powerful emotional moments with contrasting philosophies over life. It also helps that, alongside the darker, more emotional moments, it is a very funny film. It knows the multiverse concept can create some inherently ridiculous ideas and it plays them to full effect, but even then it turns these moments that could have been one off jokes into powerful emotional payoffs. For example, out of context a shot of a rock with googly eyes is a laughably ridiculous site. In context, it ends up being a pretty beautiful moment of character development.
The performances throughout the film are really strong. A strong performer was needed for Evelyn to effectively sell all of the different versions of the character and Michelle Yeoh gives an outstanding performance here. At the start of the film, she effectively shows how worn down Evelyn is, feeling like she is unfulfilled in life and has no real connections, and the journey she has over the film concerning her feelings over whether her life would have been better in another universe and nihilistic ideas, along with working well in selling the different genres of the film effectively. Ke Huy Quan as Waymond also gives an excellent performance, the contrast between the Waymond in the universe of the film and Alpha Waymond, sometimes switching between the two on camera, shows a real versatility to his acting and he works well in selling the martial arts prowess of the character, showing the experience he has in martial arts and as a fight choreographer. His performance, alongside Yeoh, also helps to sell the dramatic payoff for the film, his loving persona and philosophy providing a strong contrast to the nihilism other characters possess. Stephanie Hsu works well at showing the constantly changing nature of Joy. I don’t want to spoil too much here but a lot of the power of the film comes through the interplay between her and Yeoh, particularly where it comes to the themes of nihilism. James Hong is as reliable as ever as Gong Gong, showing someone who is more of a traditionalist in the main universe, although he has some strong character development at the end of the film, along with showing someone of power with a good, intimidating air as Alpha Gong Gong. Jamie Lee Curtis meanwhile is initially presented as a fairly one note character, but over the course of the film you see how drained she is by a nihilistic attitude, with other versions of the character having good emotional weight.
The technical elements of the film are very well handled. Whilst there is a disorienting effect through the switching between universes, this is a very deliberate choice by Daniels and there is clearly affection and care put into every universe, even ones we only see for a single frame, in terms of costume and production design. The way that each different universe is filmed is also fascinating, showing changes in genre and aspect ratio, with the influences on the film, including such diverse offerings as the works of Wong Kar-wai, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Ratatouille, being clearly felt. The editing meanwhile ensures that, even with it being disorienting, you’re able to follow everything, aided by clear cinematography and effective work in costume and production design to clearly delineate each universe, even showing how the reality of the film is affected by the multiverse, such as showing fractures in the subtitles. The action scenes meanwhile have a great clarity to them, playing into the history of Michelle Yeoh’s career in action, with there being a comedic and visceral feel to them, giving me strong Jackie Chan vibes throughout.
Overall, I think that Everything Everywhere All at Once has a strong likelihood of being my favourite film of the year, even this early into the year. What could have been a film more focused on the madcap universe hopping exploits of the characters is instead a powerful character study on the nature of nihilism, which Daniels are able to effectively present throughout the film. They know how to balance the ridiculous with the dramatic and use this to create a brilliantly moving experience.
My Rating: 5/5