We’re only 3 months into 2022, but I’m already confident in declaring my favorite movie of the year: Everything Everywhere All At Once. With its plot revolving around a mind-bending concept (the multiverse); badass female leads (Michelle Yeoh and Stephanie Hsu); stars I’ve loved since the ‘80s (Jamie Lee Curtis and Ke Huy Quan, who played Data in The Goonies and Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom); and timely, emotional and thought-provoking themes, I just couldn’t get enough. I’ll be going back to see it a second time soon.
Written and directed by Daniels (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert), EEAaO centers on Evelyn Wang (Yeoh), who is living her worst life. Literally. This fact is confirmed by an alternate-universe version of her normally gentle, optimistic and patient husband Waymond (Quan) who has met Evelyn in nearly all of her other lives across the multiverse. In our present day, Evelyn is a miserable laundromat owner who’s being audited by an especially mean IRS agent (Curtis), has a strained relationship with her daughter (Hsu), ignores Waymond and is constantly worried about pleasing her grumpy father (James Hong). But now this different version of Waymond is trying to convince her that she’s the only person who can save the entirety of the multiverse from an evil being called Jobu Tupaki.
Need a quantum mechanics refresher? Think of the multiverse as an incomprehensibly large number of other parallel timelines—a new one created each time any given person makes a decision. At that exact moment in another world within the multiverse, that same person makes a different decision and a new timeline branches off. So for example, in a life where Evelyn took her dad’s advice and decided not to run off and marry Waymond when she was younger, she becomes a famous martial arts star. In another, she’s a master chef. In another, she’s a rock. Not a rock star … just a rock.
Needless to say, eventually present-world Evelyn comes to believe alternate-universe Waymond, agrees to help him save the multiverse and learns how to “verse-jump.” This means she can harness the power of Evelyns from different universes. You can bet Kung-Fu Evelyn’s skills come in handy more than once.
But, of course, this isn’t really a movie about saving the multiverse, or even just our universe. That wouldn’t be original at all. Rather, it reminded me a lot of Disney’s recent release Turning Red, which wonderfully depicts the awkwardness of teenage-girldom as a character erupting into a giant red panda whenever her emotions get the better of her. In EEAaO, it’s clear that present-day Evelyn isn’t happy with her life and wonders what could’ve been. It’s also painfully obvious that she doesn’t know how to deal with her daughter growing up and becoming her own person—a person that’s not exactly who Evelyn expected. The multiverse not only stands in for Evelyn’s tendency to wish people (including her) and situations were different, but it also helps her bring into focus what is most important across all the lives she could’ve lived.
I took issue with two things in the film that came off as lazy and uninspired. One was that Evelyn uses an ethnic slur as the nickname for one of her laundromat customers. I’m assuming the Daniels were trying to reinforce what an insufferable person Evelyn is in the present-world, but I think they could’ve done that without resorting to such a tired, harmful stereotype. The other was a scene that relied on gross-out humor that completely took me out of the movie because it just didn’t fit, and seemed beneath how insanely clever the Daniels were with their choices for this film otherwise.
Everything Everywhere All at Once has a lot going on, but it’s not like Daniels didn’t try to forewarn us with its title. I found it like a jolt of adrenaline, and there was no one better to center it all around than the legend and icon that is Michelle Yeoh. By the end I was sobbing because some of its themes hit me so hard personally. I’m sure not everyone will have that same kind of intense reaction, but I’m also sure there’s no one who will walk away from seeing EEAaO and claim it wasn’t a original, creative, wild ride worth taking at least once.
Everything Everywhere All at Once is currently playing in some major cities, and will expand nationally on April 8.