Directed by: Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
Premise: A middle-aged Chinese American (Michelle Yeoh) manages a laundromat and contemplates divorcing her husband (Ke Huy Quan). She’s contacted by a version of her husband from a parallel reality who reveals that she is the only hope to save the universe.
What Works: Everything Everywhere All at Once has a lot going on in it but the film is primarily the story of a family. The picture centers upon Evelyn, a middle-aged woman stuck in an unfulfilling life. None of her dreams were achieved and she is in search of an escape, thinking that divorce is the way out. The film foregrounds Evelyn’s existential crisis and the drama of the movie develops out of the way in which Evelyn’s family is affected by her discontent. Michelle Yeoh is impressive as Evelyn. Yeoh has had a long career, mostly in the action and martial arts genres. Everything Everywhere All at Once puts Yeoh’s action skills to use but she’s also required to be nuanced and dramatic as well as funny and Yeoh is exceptional in the film. Also impressive are Ke Huy Quan as her husband and Stephanie Hsu as their daughter. Quan and Hsu have the challenge of playing different versions of the same character while maintaining a recognizable central identity. Quan’s character knows his marriage is in trouble but he’s unable to fix it and Quan allows himself to be vulnerable in a way that is heartbreaking. While Everything Everywhere All at Once is fundamentally a story of domestic malaise and midlife crisis, it goes beyond that. The story is about each person’s unfulfilled potential and more broadly about the way we ascribe meaning to our lives. The filmmakers explore those cerebral ideas in a science fiction premise that is wacky and very funny. Everything Everywhere All at Once consistently surprises and it has a bold visual style.
What Doesn’t: Multiverse movies are essentially time travel stories and the narrative logic of these tales is always flimsy. Everything Everywhere All at Once is tighter than some other films but with one glaring flaw. Evelyn is able to channel the talents and skills of her incarnations in other universes but she needs to take actions that will allow her to tap into those identities. Her first attempts are difficult but pretty soon she accesses a variety of skills with no effort at all. This comes across arbitrary. It’s not enough to derail the movie but the inconsistency does create some confusion.
Bottom Line: Everything Everywhere All at Once is an ambitious film that connects the immediate and domestic with bigger questions about our place in the world and the meaning of our lives. It’s a wild and unique movie anchored by a few great performances.
Episode: #898 (April 17, 2022)