Everything Everywhere All at Once review

10 May 2022

Title:Everything Everywhere All at Once
Genre:SciFi / comedy

My previous review, released only earlier this month, was for The Matrix Resurrections (2021), and it began with the words "The Matrix Resurrections (2021) is hands down the most fun I've had watching a new Hollywood release in recent years." Well, these words were true when I wrote them, but no longer true when I published the review. You see, only a few days before that, a friend invited me to see Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022), and that movie blew the competition out of the water, lifting the bar stratospherically high. To help everyone else also enjoy it as much, below is a short and spoiler-free review.

Everything Everywhere All at Once, which I've given here the highest possible marks to, because it is as near to a perfect film as I've seen in a decade, is the second collaboration between Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, who collectively bill themselves as "The Daniels". If you're reminded in this of "The Wachowskis", the nod may be entirely intentional, because Everything Everywhere All at Once is, at least in one of its many levels, a parody of both The Matrix (1999) and Cloud Atlas (2012). However, it is much more than just this.

The Daniels' first collaboration, Swiss Army Man (2016), already showed that these two are the most inventive, creative, original storytellers working in Hollywood today, but Everything Everywhere All at Once is in this in a league of its own, and does it all with an unbelievably high fun factor.

Where to begin? I will keep this review spoiler-free, because the less you know about the film going in, the more you'll enjoy it. Perhaps I'll just say this: as anyone who has read my reviews knows, I'm a fairly jaded film-goer; so it takes a very special film for me to still come out of the theatre saying "I didn't know a movie could do that!" And yet, Everything Everywhere All at Once had me thinking just that.

There are homages and references galore, which certainly kept me — and I'm sure other viewers like me — busy with a kind of mental movie bingo, but beyond direct references to past films, the movie plays with genres, with tropes, and is one of the most hilarious takes I've seen as of yet on Joseph Campbell's Hero's journey, alternating between ridiculously sincere and completely farcical, all the while following the monomyth with the diligence of someone solving a connect-the-dots puzzle.

In less talented hands, this would have easily become a mess, but The Daniels have directed it masterfully, and one is never in any doubt what is going on or where we are in the emotional roller-coaster.

Normally, when one says about a Hollywood film that it is "a comedy with a heart", one means that at key points in the narrative the jokes subside to allow for some true emotions to manifest. Everything Everywhere All at Once laughs in the face of such conventions. It is an uproarious celebration of all things cinema, from arthouse experimentalism to major blockbusters, it is laugh-out-loud funny, completely irreverent, wholesale ludicrous... but also profound, moving, thought-provoking and touching — and never are these traits in conflict. On the contrary, they play off of each other, and the film can be at its most sincere at the very same moment when showing the most ridiculous, over-the-top imagery.

So, yes, it is a beautifully orchestrated three-ring-circus, but at its heart it is about people, about connections, about how whether we love a person or hate them can be nothing more than an accident of circumstance, about being isolated or connected, about learning from one's own strengths and about learning from others, about what it means to be a teenager with a future full of possibilities, and about what it means to be a parent with a past full of closed doors. These themes are universal, but also universally personal, and the film revels in this contradiction, allowing us to share the protagonists' hyper-personal micro-experiences, while being able to relate them directly to our own.

Michelle Yeoh, who is always wonderful, knocks it out of the park in this role that she was born to play. Her Kung Fu scenes are next level, of course — She has been, after all, doing this onscreen for almost 40 years now — but she is just as wonderful in every single scene, period, and completely sells you on this world that is so completely ridiculous and bizarre, but through her eyes becomes also utterly believable.

Honourable mentions go to Jamie Lee Curtis (who manages to take a character who could have easily become a caricature and, with minimal screen time, gives her depth and an arc, and makes her perspective resonate with audiences) and to James Hong (who at 93 is still 100% on his A-game).

Fun fact: the character of Yeoh's husband is played by Ke Huy Quan, whose most notable movie role was as "Short Round" from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), and — yes — eagle-eyed viewers will find homages to that film, too.

So, the bottom line is this: this is a whole lot of movie, and best enjoyed in a crowded theatre where you can see and hear the live reactions from the audience echoing your own. It is a comedy and a parody, yes, but also has much to say — often much more so than the very films it spoofs.

Final note: here are two things that this film delivers refreshingly well, despite the fact that Hollywood at large seems completely at a loss to, and I feel they deserve a special mention.

  1. The central characters are (1) not white, (2) not male, (3) not young, (4), not pretty, and (5) not well off. [I'll comment that Michelle Yeoh is a knock-out, even at 60, but the make-up department did the best they could to make her not quite so pretty for the film.]
  2. Not a single one of these traits becomes the defining trait of any one of these characters. They are all rounded, all with their hidden strengths and buried faults. [The film does the same also with gender preferences, at one point even pointing out explicitly how ridiculous a focus on gender preferences would be, when compared with everything else going on in the universe of the film.]

In short: my absolute favourite film of the last 10 years, bar none. Run, don't walk, to see it, and you may still be able to catch it in theatres.