Director: Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
Cast: Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsu, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jenny Slate, James Hong, Harry Shum Jr.
Runtime: 2 hrs 20 mins
Rating: M18 (Some Homosexual Content and Sexual References)
Released By: mm2 Entertainment
Opening Day: 24 March 2022
Synopsis: Directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, collectively known as Daniels, Everything Everywhere All At Once is a hilarious and big-hearted sci-fi action adventure about an exhausted Chinese American woman (Michelle Yeoh) who can't seem to finish her taxes.
Thanks to Marvel, the idea of the multiverse has taken on a life of its own in modern popular culture. Not everyone is understandably enamored by it, even as Marvel is betting some of its most prominent franchises in Phase 4.0 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe on it. And yet, as proof that there is plenty of creative license within that idea alone, along comes ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’, an expectedly messy but undeniably exuberant and even poignant science-fiction action comedy from a pair of filmmakers whose big-screen debut had Daniel Radcliffe play a flatulent corpse.
That same disregard of the laws of probability, plausibility and just plain coherence is in ample display here in the sophomore film by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Schinert – otherwise known as ‘Daniels’. Structured in three parts, namely ‘Everything’, ‘Everywhere’ and ‘All at Once’, the dizzying film finds its centre in the middle-aged Chinese immigrant Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), who is not only responsible for the threat ricocheting across all the various universes at the same time, but will also single-handedly save them all from a mysterious villain known as Jobu Tupaki.
Understanding both these circumstances requires a good grasp of Evelyn’s life as it stands. Her marriage to the amiable but dull husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) is on the rocks, the latter having filed for a divorce and is simply waiting for the time to hand her the papers. She’s busy planning a birthday party for her overbearing dad (James Hong), from whom she’s hiding the fact that her teenage daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) is a lesbian. And to top it all off, she is under scrutiny by probably the most exacting auditor Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis) at the Internal Revenue Service, who is questioning why a karaoke machine is considered a business expense at her laundromat shop.
Things start to get weird when Evelyn is visited just before she meets Deirdre by a Waymond from another universe, who hands her a set of three instructions to perform her first ‘verse-jump’ and when she does, warns her that she is in imminent danger from Jobu. To save herself as well as the fate of the multi-verse, Evelyn must train herself to jump between universes to absorb the special powers of her many, many fellow Evelyns; that includes, among others, Evelyn the Peking Opera singer, Evelyn the Hong Kong movie star, Evelyn the woman with hot dogs for fingers, and last but not least, Evelyn the teppanyaki chef.
True to its title, Daniels throws everything, everywhere, all at once at his audience. How else do we describe why the leaps from universe to universe consist of such crazy acts like inflicting paper cuts on oneself, making photocopies of one’s nether-regions, and using trophies as butt plugs? Or how the universes consist of one where Evelyn the movie star has an evocative scene with a dashing Waymond not unlike Wong Kar-wai’s ‘In the Mood For Love’, another where Evelyn the chef has a fellow colleague with a raccoon on his head, and yet another where Evelyn and Joy are pinatas at a child’s birthday party?
Even as it zips through these alternate universes, much of the action takes place within the corridors and cubicles of the I.R.S. office, where Daniels lets the imagination of Andy and Brian Le run wild in their choreography. Among the highlights are a jaw-dropping early sequence where Waymond wields his fanny pack like nanchucks against four I.R.S. security guards, another where Evelyn takes on a pant-less guard wearing a butt plug, and yet another where Evelyn has to fend off a frequent laundromat customer she nicknames Big Nose (Jenny Slate) who uses her leashed Pomeranian like a savage sidekick. It is outrageous all right, and as inventive as the inter-dimensional portal-hopping may be, there is also no denying that it can get pretty hectic and even exhausting over the course of nearly two-and-a-half hours.
Thankfully, the last act reveals that there is method to the madness, or to be more precise, purpose to the pandemonium. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that the relationship between Evelyn and Joy is both the cause and the cure, and putting aside their misunderstandings in order that mother and daughter rediscover their love for each other is ultimately how the rift both physically and metaphysically can be healed. There is genuine emotional heft here, but besides sentimentality, the revelation allows the whole enterprise to take on a deeper meaning about centering on the things that matter amidst the hyper-activity of our sensory overloaded world.
Holding it all together is Yeoh, who almost missed out on the role until Daniels decided to reconceive the lead originally intended for Jackie Chan for her. Yeoh is absolutely magnificent here, mixing action, comedy and drama with a radiant and powerful charisma to match the dazzling opportunity of a showcase that she has been given. The supporting cast is equally excellent, including Quan as the tender heart of the film, Hsu with the right balance of angst and sadness, and Curtis topping it off with just the right demented comic edge as Evelyn’s nemesis.
Truth be told, we weren’t quite fans of the multiverse before this, and we still aren’t crazy about it. Like we said, there is no doubt this chaotic, funny, frenzied, sometimes exhilarating and often exasperating movie has its unique charms, but likewise it is also wildly over-the-top, excessive and absolutely unapologetic about it. It will quite surely go down as a cult classic, and even though we cannot quite say we loved it, we appreciate how it gave Yeoh a rare leading role to shine like the A-list star she deserves to be. We’d just warn you to get ready for a relentless assault on the senses, for it is ultimately as faithful to its title as it can be.
(It comes at you with everything, from everywhere, all at once, but this messy sci-fi action comedy has an irrepressible exuberance and unexpected poignancy, as well as a peerless lead performance by Michelle Yeoh)
Review by Gabriel Chong