As film fans, there’s always a handful of films that we allow to pass us by. This isn’t necessarily indicative of their quality or our willingness to enjoy them – sometimes, we’re just a little late to the party.
The idea of multiverse narratives has permeated much of pop culture in recent years. With everything from Rick and Morty to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness exploring various multiverses, reality-bending stories have become almost commonplace. However, A24’s Everything Everywhere All at Once set itself up to be something different: from one of the hottest studios in cinema, it promised to deliver a broader look at what a multiverse might mean for an average person (rather than for superheroes and mad scientists).
Led by the always excellent Michelle Yeoh alongside Ke Huy Quan and Stephanie Hsu, Everything Everywhere All at Once tells the story of an average Asian-American family of business owners eking out a living as they navigate the difficulties of modern society. Evelyn Quan Wang (Yeoh) dreams of all she might have been, lamenting her choices and subconsciously blaming her family for holding her back. However, when she’s thrust unexpectedly into the middle of a multiversal predicament, she learns far more about herself (and her family) than she bargained for.
Everything Everywhere All at Once takes an increasingly familiar concept and runs with it, exploring what breaching the multiverse might look like while also offering a story with decidedly personal stakes. Though there are numerous versions of each of its characters, they all have distinct qualities that help the film’s story work, particularly where it pertains to the Wang family’s home dynamic. Everything about Everything Everywhere All at Once feels innately unique, but still infinitely relatable despite its high-concept premise.
Everything Everywhere All At Once Conceals Its Most Powerful Ideas Behind Its Concept – And That’s Perfect
Though Everything Everywhere All at Once keeps its multiverse story at the forefront throughout, there’s far more to it than that. It’s not the sprawling story of all existence being under threat that it appears to be, but instead an examination of one woman’s strength as she finds her way to happiness and acceptance for the sake of her daughter. It’s a film that’s far more emotionally touching than its sci-fi premise would otherwise indicate, and that subversion forms a large part of its entertainment factor.
Of course, that isn’t to say that it doesn’t use its multiverse hook effectively. The action set pieces are both brilliantly realized and deeply comedic, with the utter ridiculousness of infinite possibilities properly represented throughout. Yeoh’s talent for physical performance is put to excellent use, but her subtlety is also tested by the depth of the narrative.
As well as Yeoh’s stellar performance as the stoic Evelyn, Ke Huy Quan is exceptional as her long-suffering husband Waymond. Quan delivers a performance that is equal parts impressive and touching, making for numerous scenes in which he entirely steals the show. Stephanie Hsu is also brilliant in a role that requires the ability to capture the mundane and the nonsensical by turns. The film’s main cast is fleshed out by Jamie Lee Curtis and James Hong, both of which play their parts as befitting performers of their stature.
There’s very little about Everything Everywhere All at Once that isn’t visually and thematically arresting. There’s much to associate with as it examines the trials and tribulations of modern society and family life, and ultimately its message is one of strength, hope, and sanity in the wake of seemingly insurmountable odds. Though there are some minor pacing issues in the third act that offset the film’s emotional climax, Everything Everywhere All at Once‘s cleverly written story never feels overindulgent, and that allows it to carry itself off with a sense of tonal dignity that’s difficult for something which such a high concept (and characters with hot dog fingers).
Everything Everywhere All at Once is a powerful film, make no mistake. However, much of this power lies in its deliberate attempts to avoid becoming too bogged down in unnecessary details and in its effective use of moments of levity among its more emotional moments. There’s a strange realism to proceedings that is as interesting as it is unexpected, and that’s the simplest way to summarize Everything Everywhere All at Once‘s unique charm.
Summary: Everything Everywhere All at Once is a fresh and mesmerizing take on a familiar concept, and it does so by making a statement about happiness and mental health in a way that’s as thought-provoking and touching as it is uplifting.
Highlight: Waymond’s big action scene is the film’s first and arguably its best. It’s the moment in which Ke Huy Quan’s performance first begins to send the message that Hollywood needs him, and hopefully, it’s one that’s heard loud and clear.