Everything Everywhere All At Once Is A Work Of Art
One of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite movies is ‘They should have sent a poet’ from the 1996 Robert Zemeckis film Contact. This line is said by Jodie Foster when she is on her way to an alien world; she pauses for a quick moment to observe a nebula, a body of interstellar clouds made up of a kaleidoscope of refracted colors, stars, and shapes. She’s saying this because she can’t put into words the sheer beauty of what she’s seeing.
That’s exactly how I feel after seeing the Daniels’ new film, Everything Everywhere All At Once. There are many more qualified individuals to parse what this movie is about and what it means to them. One of them is one of my favorite film critics working today, Walter Chaw. Read his stuff at Film Freak Central.
The Daniels’ last feature film was 2016’s Swiss Army Man, in which Daniel Radcliffe plays a Weekend At Bernie-Esq farting corpse. They also directed the video for Lil Jon’s Turn Down For What music video that included co-Director Daniel Kwan humping his way through multiple apartment rooms.
That is all to say, it is nothing short of a miracle that the same creators that brought us those projects also brought us one of the most emotional, human, and heartfelt movies I’ve seen in a very long time. Maybe ever.
The movie is about Michelle Yeoh’s Evelyn, an aging mom who, along with her husband Waymond, played immaculately by Ke Huy Quan, lives in a small apartment attached to the laundromat they own. Along with her and her husband, her elderly father is also living with them, played exceptionally by James Hong. Along with a rapidly looming tax bill, this living situation weighs heavily on Evelyn and her daughter Joy, played incredibly by Stephanie Hsu.
Without giving away too much, Joy is the catalyst for much of the story going forward. Like many young people from a culture-rich family living in America, Joy feels she doesn’t have a solid connection to her Chinese heritage. Joy feels even less connected to her mother because Joy is dating a woman, something that, while seemingly accepting on the surface, her mother can’t bring herself to introduce Becky, Joy’s girlfriend, to her father.
Evelyn’s relationship with Waymond is just as fractured, but for different reasons. Throughout the first third of the film, Waymond tries to get Evelyn to look at and sign divorce papers. They’ve been unhappy for a long time, it’s never disclosed why they’re at odds, but maybe it’s better left unknown.
At a certain point, a version of Waymond says to a variant of Evelyn in an alley, lit emerald green in an homage to Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai, “You think because I’m kind that it means I’m naive, and maybe I am. It’s strategic and necessary. This is how I fight. So, even though you have broken my heart yet again, I wanted to say, in another life, I would have really liked just doing laundry and taxes with you.” Crushing.
Wong Kar Wai is hardly the only influence on display here. The meta nature of Everything Everywhere practically demands that it touch on things such as Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which stars Michele Yeoh. The absurdist, surreal style of its action choreography is heavily reminiscent of Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle.
The production and costume design also deserves as much praise as the story and performances. So much of the costuming can only be described as an exploded amalgamation of Billie Ellish’s closet, with someone just Katamari Damacy-ing their way through it, soaking up and wearing whatever they touched.
One last observation is that the film uses the IMAX format to its full potential. One of the many versions of Evelyn is an opera singer, the scene being contrasted against her fighting a group of henchmen. The fight is shown in 16:9, while the opera performance is shot in IMAX 1.43:9 I believe. I’m not doing it justice here, you have to see it to understand what I’m talking about.
Everything Everywhere All The Time is a story about pushing back against feelings of isolation, nihilism, and despair. We might look around and see a world that doesn’t want us, a world that is falling apart at the seams, where institutions are failing us at every turn. We can choose to turn toward apathy and cynicism and say fuck it all.
Or you can turn away from all that. You can acknowledge all of the atrocities, unjustness, and hate in the world and say that despite all that, we’re going to do our best to make the world the best it can be. Maybe the world is just a laundromat, but we have to start somewhere.