They say everything comes better in pairs, and never have I ever seen a film like Daniels’ wonderous experience that is “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”
Experience is a keyword, and while I’ll get gruff for suggesting that not every film is an experience rather than an event, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is both an experience and an event.
Michelle Yeoh’s Evelyn Wang is at its center, a struggling laundromat owner. Her downtrodden and hurried movement throughout the early part of the film suggests tension. As Yeoh rushes through food preparation and events in the laundromat, her focus never waivers while being pulled in multiple directions. She brings her complex quiescence to the performance as the writer-director duo, Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, asks us to take in the scenes as much as the performances; the visual is far more contextual than you might be expecting, but that’s what drives the experience.
Your senses are assaulted, much like having a painful migraine in the middle of giving one of the most important speeches in a career. However, the assault on the senses is eased through Evelyn’s easy-going acting style and Daniels’ quick wit: firm with intent but distracted. Her husband, Waymond, played by “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” star Ke Huy Quan is nimble and demure, almost defeated. Throughout the film, Waymond tries to get her attention for reasons we’re aware of, but Evelyn is not. The choice to set a celebration as the foundation of the opening act is an interesting one – happiness and joy don’t convey the characters’ emotions or the mood, serving as a stark contrast to the character’s emotional states as years of neglect catch up with them.
The neglect also comes from an unlikely source, James Hong’s Gong Gong (Cantonese for “grandfather”), disapproving of Evelyn’s life choices. Through Evelyn, we see their relationship in its current state through flashbacks as the science fiction elements take over the script.
Daniels makes it a point that what’s happening to our characters is reality, and it was a sensation, something I could relate to. No, I haven’t assumed someone’s body in another dimension. However, as we replay a myriad of events throughout our lives, choices made, disappointments, and happiness, what could have been playing out as we seek to escape from our regrets and relish in our successes. Many of the choices that we make directly contribute to our happiness, and Evelyn is not happy.
Jamie Lee Curtis adds to the tension and the fun with her dry-humored Deirdre Beaubeidra, an IRS inspector who is as curt and by the book as possible. With her character’s various aspects, Curtis’s way plays to Yeoh’s controlled and uncontrolled chaos. It’s as if Daniels suggested that the characters are emotions running around in Evelyn’s head and displayed as characters throughout the second and third acts when we spend time in the multiverse.
Cinematographer Larkin Seiple, who worked with Daniels on their debut film, “Swiss Army Man,” is back for “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” His task was to capture the performances and the multiverse aspects of the story, and the film is beautifully shot, capturing every nuance and detail possible while keeping a focus on the characters. Like “Swiss Army Man,” we take the offered joy out of the experience. We walk away feeling better about ourselves because we know that everything, even as gleefully whacked out as some of the sequences and details are (keep an eye out for wobbling fingers), will be okay.
“Everything Everywhere All at Once” compels us to examine our own lives and relationships. The cast, especially Yeoh, Hong, Quan, and Curtis, are to be commended. Quan, who was dismayed over the lack of roles for Asian Americans, retired in 2002. Although he appeared in “Finding ‘Ohana,” this film was shot before the former’s release, and therefore his performance as Waymond marks his return to acting, and it was a true joy seeing him on the screen again. The natural glue of the story is in Daniels’ understanding of the complexity of life choices and the positive or adverse reactions to those choices.
To quote Gene Siskel, “THIS is why we go to the movies.” “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is now in theaters.
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