Everything Everywhere All At Once Film Review: We Contain Multitudes

What do spinning washing machines, “everything bagels,” and intergenerational trauma all have in common? Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022), written and directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (collectively known as Daniels). In it, all of these things go round and round in cyclical ways, and their ubiquitousness seems to continue on, neverending.

Everything Everywhere All at Once Film Review

Played by the magnetic Michelle Yeoh and the heartstring-pulling, grounded Ke Huy Quan, the film’s main characters, Evelyn and Waymond Wang, operate a laundromat in California. Their daughter Joy is portrayed by powerhouse Stephanie Hsu, who really took me by surprise with magnificent iterations of a character who embodies angst and power at the same time. James Wong plays Evelyn’s father and grandpa to Joy, a lesbian who pretends that her girlfriend is a “good friend,” rather than a lover.

Everything Everywhere All at Once Film Review
Everything Everywhere All at Once Film Review

In the story, Joy “creates” or invents the everything bagel. The bagel appears more or less as a hovering black hole — with sprinkles and flecks of onions to get your blood moving and make you cry, poppy seeds to get you high, salt to rub it in and preserve it. It’s the stuff of life, you know: everything. Everything includes all the pain and suffering of life. Everything is also nihilistic; the Joys state over and over again that there is no meaning to anything in life.

Throughout the film, each character lives different lives in different universes, as though each reincarnation was happening at the same time (if you believe in that kind of stuff). Each universe is a different lifetime, where all the characters have different skills that they can access. Joy’s roles in each universe range from that of a singer, chef, and philosopher to sign twirler and love interest of Deirdre, played by Jamie Lee Curtis. In the main universe where we first find everyone, Deirdre is a mean tax auditor for the IRS.

Everything Everywhere All at Once Film Review
Everything Everywhere All at Once Film Review
Everything Everywhere All at Once Film Review
Everything Everywhere All at Once Film Review
Everything Everywhere All at Once Film Review
Everything Everywhere All at Once Film Review

Vietnamese brothers Andy Le and Brian Le are highlights in this film. They’re part of Martial Club, a Southern California martial arts team who promote the virtues and ethics of traditional kung fu in a modern world. They play Evelyn’s obstacles and adversaries, including a security guard who intervenes between Evelyn and Deirdre after a scuffle. Their action sequences are tops and include things you’d never imagine and that you’ll probably never see again. (Staying vague, so as to not spoil these surprises.)

Movies like Everything Everywhere All at Once show us that it’s okay to have ADHD or to be gay or to dream about other lives or to try and fail at a multitude of things. In the Q&A session after the world premiere of the movie during SXSW 2022, for instance, Kwan addressed the fact that he figured out he had an attention deficit disorder in the process of making the film.

This movie also marks the triumphant return of Ke Huy Quan to the big screen. In a fireside chat about EEAAO at SXSW, he says that if he had the option to win the lottery or play the role of Waymond that he would definitely choose the latter. Quan told the group that he was on pins and needles waiting for Daniels to finalize his casting. They had gone radio silent for a couple months, and when they did offer him the role, how he jumped sky high after receiving the news. Daniels made the right call. Quan is perfect as Waymond. Not only do we feel how it is to be in his shoes, but we root for him through-out the film, because he’s a patient, caring underdog who explains that his way of fighting is to show love instead of anger and frustration.

As Evelyn, Michelle Yeoh is a flawed Asian American wife and mother. But she also feels the pressures of being female and Asian. She’s shown to be a woman who had dreams that may not have materialized in one multiverse, but who learns to not only accept herself and all of her life decisions. Evelyn also comes to understand the cycle of intergenerational trauma, including expectations from her father and how they affect her daughter.

Everything Everywhere All at Once Film Review
Everything Everywhere All at Once Film Review
Everything Everywhere All at Once Film Review
Everything Everywhere All at Once Film Review
Everything Everywhere All at Once Film Review
Everything Everywhere All at Once Film Review

Everything Everywhere All at Once is broken down and divided into three parts (or chapters or acts) with markers on screen. Part one is: Everything. Part two is: Everywhere. Part three is: All At Once. It’s very difficult to compare it to other films. Some parts (one multiverse) of this movie are reminiscent of Wong Kar-wai in style and tone. Another part (with Harry Shum Jr.) is partially The Great Outdoors with John Candy mixed with Ratatouille. With all of these moving parts, the movie is still all Daniels; it’s off-kilter in the best ways. Kwan and Scheinert come from the music video world before feature filmmaking, and it shows with their concepts and sharp edits. Everything Everywhere All at Once is not just an immigrant story and not just an Asian story; it’s a Daniels story, and one for all of us, no matter who you are.

This movie arriving now is of special importance with the anniversary of the Atlanta spa killings that happened last March 16, when multiple Asian American women (like Evelyn and Joy) were killed in cold blood. These women had dreams and hopes too. They were also daughters, mothers, aunts, sisters, cousins. They were silenced forever. This film shows the interior and exterior lives of Asian diaspora women who are often invisible in the western world.

In the aforementioned fireside chat at SXSW, producer Jonathan Wong said he hates it when people say something “humanizes Asians.” “We are humans,” he stated.

EEAAO is a fantastic reminder of this simple fact that so many fail to realize, very sadly. The film is an absurdist masterpiece and the Asian cultural specificity and the transmutation of trauma made my laughs heartier.

Try not to eat too much before watching EEAAO — because your food might come out of your nose from laughing so much at the right times in this movie. You’ll come out of the theater wanting to love your loved ones even more. Two hot dog fingers thumbs up (again, you’ll see what I mean).

Everything Everywhere All at Once had its world premiere and opened the entire South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival in Austin, Texas on March 11, 2022. The film officially opens on March 25.

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Written by
Thuc Doan Nguyen

Thuc Doan Nguyen was born in Vietnam and was a child refugee boat person. She and her family were sponsored to the small town of Kinston, North Carolina. Thuc then grew up right outside of Washington, DC and went to undergrad at UNC-Chapel Hill. Since then she's lived in London, UK, New York City and Los Angeles. She's now a proud New Orleans resident. Thuc's written about food, travel and culture for various major outlets like Vogue, VICE and The Daily Beast. She's written about Asian-American/Asian-Diaspora women's issues for Esquire, Refinery29 and PBS. When she's not writing for magazines, Thuc writes screenplays that primarily take place in New Orleans with Women of Color leads.

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