Director: Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
Cast: Michelle Yeoh, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsu, James Hong, Jenny Slate, Harry Shum Jr.
Genre: Sci-fi, Action comedy
Country/Language: USA / English, Cantonese
Duration: 2 hr 20 minutes
Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) is a Chinese-American middle aged woman who runs a laundromat with her husband. Evelyn lives an extraordinarily boring life filled with running the family business, dealing with taxes, and negotiating generational differences with her daughter Joy. One day, her life is forever changed when a version of her husband, Waymond, enters her life from a parallel universe and tells her that the entire universe is in danger of destruction. Evelyn is the only one who can save the world (and many other worlds) by defeating the evil entity that is known as Jobu Tupaki who is spreading chaos and confusion. From the scene where Alpha Waymond tells Evelyn about this situation, the film speeds up and proceeds at a breakneck pace.
The Daniels, who direct their second feature film, are the boldest filmmakers to come out with a movie this year. Everything Everywhere All at Once isn’t shy about straddling the many genres, refusing to stay inside a box. It hops giddily from a Hong Kong martial arts-inspired action film to an absurdist comedy, from a fantastical visually rich film to a science fiction influenced by The Matrix, and leaping from a family drama to a romantic movie taking visual notes from In The Mood For Love.
A love letter to cinema itself, no movie in the last decade comes close to being so free, bold, ambitious and in thrall of movies as EEAAO. Perhaps the last such filmmaker who wore his heart on his sleeve, played around with match cuts and scene transitions, and referenced other films – and even went meta – was Edgar Wright, the British director known for his Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy.
This is not to say that everyone will enjoy EEAAO in all its rambunctious glory – although most will. With its incredibly silly scenarios (complete with hotdog fingers and a raccoon) and its absurd comedy, older viewers might be put off. Although the philosophical film is about a multiverse, the what ifs and could’ve beens, and generational trauma, EEAAO is galaxies away from being a serious film. And that is actually the key to EEAAO’s success as the action comedy has broken a box office record for being studio A24’s highest selling film.
It has gained word-of-mouth success in North America and on the internet due to its expert ability in packing serious topics like nihilism and the meaninglessness of life into what is an exuberant crowd-pleaser on par with a Marvel picture. In fact, it garners the audience’s awe and digs deeper into emotions in a way many Marvel flicks simply have not.
This is not to say that EEAAO is a flawless masterpiece. Although others would disagree, this author felt overwhelmed by the sensory overload and occasional heavy-handed sentimentality of the film’s core message in the latter half. The message of the importance of love in keeping one tethered to reality is often hammered onto the audience again and again when preaching it once would have been enough.
But that is not to take away from the rest of the movie which is filled with so much joy, so much humour and so much creativity that this author recommends that everyone give this film a shot at least once. The plot can be confusing and dense at first, so it is recommended that viewers watch it twice. And that they approach it knowing that it is going to be a silly film that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
EEAAO is such a blessing on mainstream cinema today because of how much its creative shine sheds light on the drabness and lack of inventiveness of its contemporary films. This movie brings a smile to every movie nerd as it reminds us of what Western/American cinema has been missing.
Michelle Yeoh is absolutely brilliant in her role as the middle-aged mother and wife, Evelyn Wang. For her age, Yeoh is remarkable in doing her own stunts in a convincing and thrilling way. She equally excels in her softer, more emotional scenes as well being perfect in comic timing. Yeoh is indeed one of world cinema’s brightest stars who hasn’t gotten such a meaty role to chew on in quite some time. We must thank Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert for begging Michelle to do this role even though their first choice was Jackie Chan.
Jamie Lee Curtis is another fantastic addition to the cast who harnesses all the menace she can to play the intimidating tax auditor Deirdre.
Another gem of the cast is Ke Huy Quan who plays Evelyn’s incredibly sweet husband Waymond, alongwith his alternate universe version, Alpha Waymond. When he is in Alpha Waymond mode, Quan is outstandingly badass in his action scenes, especially the fanny pack scene where he beats up three or four guards with solely a satchel. Shockingly, Quan was overlooked by Hollywood as the industry didn’t know what to do with him after he made his memorable appearance in 1984’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. All thanks to the Daniels, we get to watch the incredible actor fulfil his potential in the dynamic role of Waymond which requires action, romance and comedy from him. He is truly an actor that few knew about when they sat down to watch the film but walked out of the theatres singing praises about.
And finally, there’s Stephanie Hsu. The youngest cast member, she plays Evelyn and Waymond’s daughter Joy who is struggling to come out to her grandfather as well as grappling with the futility of life. Hsu brings forth the darker aspects of the movie. We see the existential fear, unanchored hopelessness and moral breakdown in her misty eyes, downward smile, and the unmotivated demeanour with which she floats around people. There is something scarily familiar about her downtroddenness which young folks can recognize and relate to, especially since economic crises, urban alienation and the climate crisis threaten to unravel our collective future. Hsu is also hilarious in the more upbeat scenes which require assured stunt choreography and fabulously wacky costumes, which look surprisingly tasteful on her while referencing the emotional chaos in her head.
There is no movie quite like Everything Everywhere All at Once in the multiplexes this summer. Unfortunately, no release date has been announced for this sci-fi in India. And even if it were to play here, many scenes would surely be censored for its glorious lewdness. This is unfortunate because those scenes are what make some of the most unforgettable and original situations in this comedy. Happy to reference movies from Ratatouille to 2001: A Space Odyssey as well as Michelle Yeoh’s own martial arts films of the yesteryears, EEAAO will bring a huge grin to your face and make one grateful for filmmakers like the Daniels and studios like A24 which consistently supports eccentric minds and ignored talents. But be prepared for the aesthetic chaos, excessive action, violence and a loud booming score – all of which will make for a deeply intense experience.
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