by Andrew Yoast
“Every rejection, every disappointment has led you here to this moment.”
I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a movie with a more appropriate title than “Everything Everywhere All At Once.” It’s the most amount of movie a movie could possibly be, and it’s a movie that’s a love letter to movies in general. Not genre-defining, but genre-inventing.
In the wrong hands, this story is a contrived, glib, over-diluted mess. Daniels (Dan Kwan and Daniel Sheinert), the directors of the film, must’ve been able to foresee that possibility, because what they’ve given us is a fully self-actualized, multifaceted story about love, loss, and redemption that’s cleverly disguised as a mind-bending plunge into the multiverse. If aliens came down and had no idea what movies are or how they work, this would be the movie that I’d show them. Not because it’s the best movie ever made, but rather because it’s the encapsulation of the limitless possibilities of the art form.
The dichotomy between the visual absurdity and the integrality of the message to what it means to be a human being is harmonious, cohesive, and it is moviemaking and storytelling at its absolute pinnacle. After an uncertain couple of years, suffice to say that movies are back and they’re here to stay.
When the story begins, we’re introduced to Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) and her husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), Chinese immigrants and owners of a struggling laundromat in the midst of an audit by the IRS. Evelyn is drowning in a pile of receipts and tax forms, all while trying to organize a party for Chinese New Year and host her stern, traditional-minded elderly father, Gong Gong (James Hong). Waymond is trying to hand Evelyn divorce papers, but Evelyn is preoccupied with the laundromat and everything else going on, so she doesn’t even notice.
Their daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu), wants to introduce her girlfriend, Becky (Tallie Medel), to the family, but despite Waymond being open and accepting of Becky, Evelyn’s antiquated traditional beliefs won’t allow her to publicly acknowledge her daughter’s relationship. Additionally, Evelyn and Waymond must deal with a staunch IRS auditor (Jamie Lee Curtis) whose name is, I kid you not, Deirdre Beaubeirdra.
Nothing at all can be said about this movie without first acknowledging the acting. The main actors in this film play off each other with the cohesion of a seasoned basketball team, each understanding their role and complimenting each other’s abilities in the pursuit of greatness.
It’s a beautiful thing to see someone actualize their fullest potential right in front of your eyes, and that’s exactly what Michelle Yeoh does in this role. She displays boundless range, signifying that whatever anyone thought was the ceiling for her abilities as a performer, she most certainly shattered the ceiling, flew through a wormhole to another dimension, and is currently residing on a planet that is entirely her own.
It is noteworthy that when imagining the possibilities of herself in other universes, the epitome of success for Evelyn is a version of herself that is essentially what Michelle Yeoh is in our universe. Let that sink in: Out of the limitless possibilities of what she could be, the apex version of Evelyn Wang that she can imagine is an internationally renowned movie star and martial artist.
Yeoh’s chemistry with the rest of the cast is what makes this movie work at all. At its core, this movie is grounded in the performances.
The dynamic between Yeoh’s Evelyn and Stephanie Hsu’s Joy is the gravitational center of the movie around which everything else revolves. In order to be sold on this story, we need to be convinced that their relationship is strained effectively beyond repair, to the point where a multiversal version of Joy (called Jobu Topaki) is hell-bent on destroying the multiverse and herself because she feels so profoundly alone and misunderstood by her own mother.
We also need to feel and believe the tension between the stern, traditionally-mined Evelyn and the benevolent, understanding Waymond, and how their different approaches to life are putting an insurmountable strain on their marriage, and, in turn, the rest of the family. These relationships aren’t what make the movie work, they are the movie. Because for all of the technical flare, the multiversal escapades, and the flashiness of the action, it’s a story about human people experiencing the same human emotions that people everywhere deal with every day: the desire to be understood, the unbearable weight of intergenerational trauma, the possibilities of what life could be if we did something different, and the uncertainty of how to soldier on when you feel like life has no meaning.
Ke Huy Quan’s portrayal of Waymond, Evelyn’s nasally voiced, wholesome, kind-hearted husband, is an absolute revelation. The only thing that makes me sad is the consideration that we’ve possibly been missing out on a generational movie star for the past 20 years. If Yeoh and Hsu are the gravitational center, Quan is a comet shining bright flying through the movie. He is perpetual motion; an energizer that has the impossible task of handling nearly all of the exposition, effectively taking half an hour of the movie to explain the intricacies of the multiverse all while reminding Evelyn and the audience that “The Universe is so much bigger than you realize.” He’s downright hilarious while simultaneously being the wisest character in the film, delivering line readings of philosophical brilliance in between physical comedy and surreal fight choreography.
Rounding out the players, Jamie Lee Curtis and James Hong are the perfect complimentary actors to make this story hum; a binary star orbiting the movie and providing illumination when needed. It speaks to a deftness of the filmmakers to have the awareness to place two living legends in supporting roles presiding over the film from the periphery. In both cases, it is apparent that each actor is delighted with the material, and really relished the opportunity to let loose. Curtis starts as the by the books IRS auditor, Hong as the conventional old-school grandfather. Each actor goes through a journey that allows us to see them in multiple different lights, but ultimately the importance of their characters is to help Evelyn realize deficiencies in her own life.
None of the characters is completely healed at the end of the movie. And that’s all right, because healing is a process, and not instantaneous. They’re at least on the path towards redemption, which is a hell of a start considering where they were when the story began. Their journeys are representative of one of the great philosophical questions: What do we owe to each other? Depends on who you ask. But, if we’re asking “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” what we owe each other is kindness.
Andrew Yoast is a freelance writer who lives in Hurleyville. His movie reviews will appear from time to time in The Hurleyville Sentinel.