(Everything Everywhere All at Once premieres this Friday, April 29th, 2022)
I turned 35 last autumn. It was around then I finally received a diagnosis of my autism and ADD. After three decades, I finally knew why my head was so loud all the time. It literally held in everything, everywhere, all at once.
Around the world, directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, collectively known as Daniels, were working on their latest feature. Initially pitched as a comedic story of someone with ADD, the duo began to research the misunderstood illness more thoroughly. As they came away with a better understanding of it, Kwan also received a diagnosis of his untreated ADD symptoms. No longer able to write a glib take on the matter, Daniels went back to adjust their story with greater empathy.
The result is a beautiful, emotionally rewarding masterpiece of understanding. A film that communicates mental illness, depression, anxiety, and a longing for change better than anything to date. It is also hysterically funny, immensely touching, and a triumph of the imagination.
Michelle Yeoh plays Evelyn Wang, a dissatisfied laundromat owner stuck in a rut that overwhelms everything. Her business is failing almost as fast as her marriage. Her daughter, Joy, is moments away from leaving for good. There are taxes to file. Her ailing father lives with her now. For him, everything about Evelyn is a failure.
Then, out of nowhere, Evelyn’s husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) straightens up with a fire in his eyes. “I am not the Waymond you know,” he says. “I am Alpha Waymond from another multiverse.”
Every choice Evelyn has ever made has diverted into a new reality. The result is a vast multiverse of opportunity and sorrow, living out its life beyond our reality. But something is attacking the other worlds. A force of anger and depression eating away at all the other Evelyns. It’s only here, in this universe where Evelyn chose all the wrong paths, that they can fight this power.
But after a lifetime of disappointment, can Evelyn muster the energy to make a change?
The setup is brilliant in its simplicity. In turning every fear, anxiety, and life choice into physical constructs, Everything Everywhere builds a rich and vibrant playing field we can instantly recognize. When the rules change, they feel natural because of dreamlike logic. Of course, irrational behavior will cause a seismic shift in the multiverse. After all, if there’s a natural order to things, what better way to divert from it than through chaos?
But there’s also a valuable logic to it all. Things don’t just happen for no reason. As Evelyn versehops for the first time, she experiences all the joy and success another version of her has lived through. It’s intoxicating. A jolt of euphoria into a life of disappointment. She doesn’t want to let go. Given the opportunity, she’d live off that feeling like a parasite for the rest of her days.
It’s a potent, emotionally devastating moment. Which one of us hasn’t escaped into daydreams of alternate lives at some point or another? Elsewhere, she sees worlds of love, intimacy, and self-realization. She feels anger, resentment, and even greed. Why can’t she have that? What single thing has prevented her from experiencing these lives?
These are hard, profound questions from a film riddled with kung-fu fights, Matrix vignettes, and dick jokes. The fact that they all work in context is a balancing act worthy of greater study. As an example of smart, eloquent writing through genre tropes, Everything Everywhere sets a new standard for others to follow.
On a technical level, Everything Everywhere is a stellar showcase of the power of imagination. Shot on a budget of 20 million dollars, (essentially what a Transformers film spends on catering), its staggering practical effects work defy expectations.
Yet none of it would mean a thing without a compelling cast at its core.
Michelle Yeoh, a luminant screen presence, is at her very best as Evelyn. She’s in every frame of the film, occupying drastically different personalities and genders. In lesser hands, our main Evelyn would feel non-existent. A vessel for more interesting characters. But Yeoh never lets go of the emotional core. Evelyn is all of these people. She has the capacity for anything – even if it’s not as successful as in other worlds.
Equally brilliant is Ke Huy Quan, returning to the screen after decades of absence. It’s a brilliant comeback performance. Dramatic and powerful, funny and nuanced. His interplay with Yeoh is magical. Their relationship defines them both but also emphasizes their distinct uniqueness at once. Their great tragedy is knowing how each defines the other but fearing the commitment of a partnership that’s all-encompassing and demanding.
Everything Everywhere defies explanation and definition. It feels wrong to categorize it simply into one box. Like the people it depicts, it’s a vast multitude of elements. Some contradictory, others vitally important to the other. It effortlessly hops between cinematic styles, riffing from the famous and the obscure. Pop culture, like life, becomes shorthand to communicate complex emotions. Especially at the times when we can’t exactly remember what we’re referencing.
Those complexities can overwhelm in the same way that Everything Everywhere often does. A single viewing simply isn’t enough. Every frame has so much going on it feels like overkill. Yet as a visual representation of anxiety and a loud brain, it is perfect. It is eloquent in its simplicity and subtle in its maximalism.
And, on the other hand, it is also a rollicking good time. A kung-fu film with universal stakes. A chance for 50-something actors to play the hero. A high-flying comedy of absurd proportions.
It is everything for everyone, everywhere. Don’t miss it.