In Everything Everywhere All At Once Michelle Yeoh plays an overburdened wife, mother, and small business owner whose reality splits apart during a tax audit.
With a title as hyperbolic as Everything Everywhere All At Once, it’s clear the latest film from Writer/Director duo, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (who credit themselves as the “Daniels”), seeks to overwhelm. A kaleidoscopic mishmash of family drama, dystopian sci-fi, and martial arts movie, Everything Everywhere barrages its audience with irreverent internet humour which, for the most part, lands.
Things kick off rather humbly when first-generation immigrant Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) prepares for a tax audit of the laundromat which she owns with her soft-spoken husband Waymond (a lovable presence played endearingly by Ke Huy Quan). A frantic (but compared to the rest of the film, understated) opening introduces us to Evelyn’s myriad responsibilities and struggles which include cooking breakfast for her burdensome father Gong Gong (James Hong) whilst also serving customers in the Laundromat downstairs.
Evelyn’s family is teetering on the edge of collapse with her husband having secretly filed for divorce. When her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) reveals that she is gay—by bringing her girlfriend to dinner—Evelyn hides the news from her father. The act, though subtle, feels like a pivotal turning point in Evelyn’s relationship with her daughter and mirrors (through a later flashback) a life-altering fight she once had with her father in China before emigrating to America.
On the way to the tax office, Evelyn is offered an escape from her mundane existence by a version of her husband that stems from an alternate reality. It turns out there’s a war taking place across the Multiverse which threatens all life as we know it. This also presents Evelyn with the opportunity to revisit moments of regret and experience all the different lives that she could (and in alternate realities did) have.
Everything Everywhere functions firmly through metaphor. Evelyn’s personal battles become literalised as absurd and playfully choreographed martial arts fights with her friends, family and acquaintances. By way of cross-dimensional travel a ghoulish tax auditor (Jamie Lee Curtis) who belittles Evelyn during her audit, turns into a stalking predator in one world and a potential lover in another.
Whilst such tonal shifts are jarring, they’re essential to the experience that feels somewhere between being spun in a centrifuge and shot out of a confetti cannon. Everything Everywhere is packed with endless references, making allusions to films like The Matrix and 2001: A Space Odyssey—and in a universe where Evelyn is her best self, a romantic encounter with Waymond is realised like Wong Kar-wai’s Chungking Express or Fallen Angels.
A lot of this is truly hilarious, but in its attempts to keep upping the ante Everything Everywhere inevitably begins to feel a little exhausting. The elegance with which the fights are choreographed sadly does not translate to how the story’s more emotional moments are handled (barring a profoundly moving sequence involving sentient rocks). It may just be down to the dopamine rush that the film’s more frantic sections induce, but the emotional climax feels painfully drawn out—as if amongst all the havoc the filmmakers were worried that their audience might get lost.
Everything Everywhere All At Once is energetic and daring in all the right ways. It tells a heartfelt story of familial love and regret but is ultimately let down by its long runtime and drawn-out conclusion.
Words by Jake Abatan
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