I saw Everything Everywhere All at Once this past weekend, and I can’t stop thinking about it. This movie is bizarre beyond explanation and full of seemingly impossible feats of science and human emotion. In short, I liked it a lot. Normally I would want to review a movie that I saw and enjoyed, but I wouldn’t know where to begin with this one. It’s different from anything else I’ve seen, and I don’t have any technical problems with it. I don’t know what issues you would have with a movie that is aggressively absurd and profoundly therapeutic. I once read a review of The Incredibles where the reviewer said it felt like a 2-hour family therapy session. Everything Everywhere All at Once gave me that exact feeling, but it’s packed in with so much laughter and sweetness that it doesn’t weigh too heavy. Today, I want to talk about what makes this movie unique and such a breath of fresh air because that’s one of its biggest takeaways.
Everything Everywhere All at Once is divided into three segments, unsurprisingly titled “Part I: Everything,” “Part II: Everywhere,” and “Part III: All at Once.” “Everything” explores the less than satisfactory life of one Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh). Evelyn is a Chinese-American immigrant running a laundromat with her sweet but useless husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan). Things get out of hand when the laundromat has an IRS audit and a party on the same day, with Evelyn bumping heads with her father, Gong Gong (James Hong), and daughter (Stephanie Hsu). At the IRS office, the family’s crucial meeting is interrupted when Waymond’s body is taken over by another version of himself – a more capable, collected one. He tells Evelyn that not only is her universe in peril, but a limitless collection of universes is in danger of eradication by a mysterious force known as Jobu Topacky. This is where “Everywhere” takes off, as Evelyn must learn to “verse-jump” into her own alternate lives in various other universes. I won’t spoil “All at Once” because you want to see this for yourself.
The cast absolutely makes this movie. Everything Everywhere All at Once offers a lot to love, but it simply wouldn’t work if the actors couldn’t convey the drama and humor of it all. Michelle Yeoh is incredible in this film, making me wish I had liked her more in other movies. She does a harsher, strong Chinese accent in this movie because Evelyn never perfected her English – the one in the central universe, that is. This is a woman past her prime who is forced to question every life decision she’s ever made. In a universe where she and Waymond didn’t get married and come to America, she’s a glamorous movie star. In another, she became a renowned hibachi chef. Yeoh must also display shock and confusion in a dimension where she has hotdog hands and is romantically involved with their IRS agent, Deidre (Jamie Lee Curtis). Curtis is also hysterical in this, but the best part was when she showed compassion for Evelyn’s situation. Ke Huy Quan was a child actor known for roles in The Goonies and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. That’s actually all I knew him from before this, but his role as Waymond is a revelation. This character is more complex than he initially appears, and has a tragic emotional intelligence to him; he just wants affection within his marriage. And he’s the one who most effectively communicates with Deidre, getting more time for the audit and explaining Evelyn’s shortcomings and misunderstandings. James Hong speaks for himself at this point, but his role is also layered, and he gets some laughs in. Stephanie Hsu plays Evelyn and Waymond’s daughter Joy. This is yet another character that seems to be one thing but proves more complicated than initially thought – noticing a pattern here? There’s tension between Joy and Evelyn because Evelyn struggles to make family time amongst the chaos of the laundromat and her father’s sky-high expectations. Joy is also in a relationship with a girl named Becky, which Evelyn claims to be okay with. However, she mixes up Becky’s gender due to Chinese vs. American grammar and refuses to tell Gong Gong, saying he won’t understand. There are also a couple of fun smaller roles, like Jenny Slate as an absent-minded millennial dog mom.
This movie is the most visually unique piece of media I’ve seen since last year’s Arcane. It helps that the different universes offer opportunities to toy with different genres. For example, in the universe where Evelyn is a movie star, wuxia elements are introduced in her martial arts training. Absurdist comedy comes in with the hotdog hands universe and one with an ongoing gag involving a raccoon. Again, you want to see this for yourself. Writer/directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (known collectively as Daniels) also show a fantastic literacy for movies, with references ranging from small visual gags to major plot points. Everything Everywhere All at Once is scored by Son Lux, and while I don’t know any of this composer’s other work, to say this score is impressive would be an understatement. It complements the mundanity of everyday family life equally as well as the big badass moments Evelyn, Waymond, and even Gong Gong get later in the film.
What I like the most about Everything Everywhere All at Once are its themes of regret, intergenerational trauma and healing, and appreciating the life you have. The film starts out showing Evelyn’s life as glum and unexciting, but I haven’t seen a movie so in love with life since 2020’s Soul. Despite everything that could have been different if Evelyn had made other decisions, her love for Waymond and Joy outweighs the possibilities. I also love that even the main Waymond isn’t just a loser; he has something Evelyn lacks, which is kindness and empathy. He connects with other people in a way she doesn’t because he takes the time to be kind. He’s also very funny, and these are qualities Evelyn only comes to appreciate once more as the film goes on. This all serves to reinforce her choice to go to America with him all those years ago. Joy’s depression and longing to connect with her mother are also addressed in a very satisfying manner. The only character I wish we knew more about is Gong Gong; Evelyn asks how he could just let her go all those years ago. He basically disowned her for marrying Waymond, and this is never explained. The movie isn’t about him, and there’s a lot to unpack as is, so I can live with this.
Everything Everywhere All at Once is intelligent, funny, absurd, heartwarming, and thought-provoking. I don’t think this movie’s concept and visual language will be for everyone, but it masterfully excels at what it seeks to accomplish. The performances are outstanding, the dialogue sweet and hilarious, and nearly every frame is an artistic masterpiece. I would recommend that anyone except for children give this movie a chance; it does have some language and sexual content.