Multiverses are very good for business these days, offering cameos that drive box office and fan fervor through the ceiling. Everything Everywhere All at Once is a multiverse film that is personal and specific, exploring all the paths that its protagonist (Michelle Yeoth as Evelyn Wang) never took.
In one of the best jokes early on, Evelyn is told she’s the Chosen One not because she is special but because she is, literally, living the worst of all possible lives of the multiverse of Evelyns. She has taken all the many bad paths and dead ends, but this positions her as the only one who has the power to tap into every other power and ability from her multiverse duplicates.
It’s one thing to be feeling like you should have made a different choice in the past, and it’s another to get confirmation. This backhanded revelation could just serve as its own joke but it actually transforms into a philosophy that coalesces in the final act, that of all the universes and possibilities we could have had, the best one is the one we are actually present for. By the end of the movie, it’s become a journey of self-actualization but tied to self-acceptance, where kindness and empathy are the real super weapons and the answer to the tumult of postmodern nihilism.
This is a dozen different kinds of movies, all smashed together, and each of them is utterly delightful and skillfully realized and executed. If you like martial arts action, there are some excellent fight sequences including a showstopper where Ke Huy Quan’s Waymond Wang wrecks a team of security guards with a fanny pack.
The action is thrilling and original, with its martial arts choreography allowing the audience to really appreciate the moves and countermoves. The humor is outlandish at moments, combining low-humor and highbrow references to great effect. The film also has a heartfelt family drama at its core between Yeoth’s Evelyn and Waymond Wang (Ke Huy Quan) and Joy Wang (Stephanie Hsu).
The movie is certainly elevated by the strength of the performances. Yeoh (Crazy Rich Asians) has spent decades as a martial arts master, and of late she’s been branching out in more demanding dramas, but this is easily the finest performance of her career for nothing less than playing a dozen different characters. Stephanie Hsu (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) as Joy is the wounded soul, and her sneers and seen-it-all attitude are killer without losing track of the pain at the core of the character.
Joy’s emotional confrontations with her mother are powerful and impactful, but it’s her sibling played by Ke Huy Quan that’s the secret weapon of the film. The former child actor who played Data in The Goonies and Short Round in Temple of Doom delivers his finest work in decades.
Quan gets to play a wide array of “Waymond’s,” from the doting and meek husband to the confidant warriors. The key achievement of Quan’s performance is that with each new Waymond, Quan makes you fall in love with the original even more.
The genius of directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert comes from marrying the most insane, ungrounded ideas with genuine pathos and grounded emotion. In essence, even though Everything Everywhere All at Once is beyond stuffed, nothing is merely disposable.
This is stylized filmmaking that is very personal while also being accessible and universal in its existential pains and longing. It’s the kind of movie that reignites your passion for cinema, the kind that delivers something new from the studio system, and the kind that deserves to be seen in a theater.
Letter Grade: B+