Everything Everywhere All at Once had an odd run of it in 2022. The film itself was a weird blend of comedy, drama, science fiction, and action. The audience reaction was unexpectedly enthused; this is the kind of film that usually finds its dedicated fans, all of whom embrace it as a cult favourite while bemoaning that the masses and the critics overlooked it. The thing is, they didn’t overlook it at all. This was a popular international hit, and it has been showered with all kind of award wins and nominations. It is also strange that, for some reason, the film led many to gush with appreciation for star Michelle Yeoh – as if she had been launched from obscurity at last, and was not already one of the most famous actors in the world. It is almost as if her past career didn’t matter now that she was finally headlining an American feature.
Yeoh does seem key to Everything‘s success. It was written with Jackie Chan in mind, and only offered to Yeoh when he rejected it. Chan is a capable actor when challenged by good material, but it is difficult to imagine the film’s trans-dimensional heroine sparking quite so much joy and satisfaction were she male and her husband female. That husband character is great by the way: Ke Huy Quan, a former child star from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Goonies back in action, now in middle-age, and showing off a genuine award-worthy performance that seemingly came out of nowhere and will hopefully lead to a long, lucrative adult career.
Yeoh and Quan play Evelyn and Waymond Wong, an immigrant couple operating a struggling laundromat that is under audit by the IRS. While negotiating with a particularly officious auditor (Jamie Lee Curtis), Evelyn learns from a parallel-universe version of her husband that a splintered array of realities exist, that they are under threat from a mysterious assailant, and that she is key to saving the multiverse from destruction.
Rarely has a film’s title reflected its contents so well. While may not include everything all at once, it does boasts a range of genre approaches stacked on top of one another and blended into a variety of combinations. It is also rich in film parody and reference, family drama, and deliberately absurd concepts.
Whether or not the film is stacked too heavily with idea is honestly a matter of taste, but I think it is fair to say that the pace does begin to drag during the third act. With just a little too much to tie up and resolve, what could have been a dizzying 90-minute wonder taps out having outstayed its welcome and tested the viewer’s patience. It is also more enjoyable in discrete sequences than as an overall movie. It tries to cover a lot of territory, and does not really inter-relate its elements as well as it needs to. To its credit it does develop some excellent themes and motifs regarding the Asian immigrant experience in the USA; as a white Australian, I have no doubt there were elements that were lost on me. What I did catch was marvellously done.
Jamie Lee Curtis and Stephanie Hsu both provide excellent support, as goes Hollywood veteran James Hong. In a few weeks Hong turns 93. His is a career well worth celebrating, and it’s great to see him feature here so late in his career.
While it does have its flaws, and I do think the acclaim it has been receiving is a little over-heated, Everything Everywhere All at Once is a terrifically smart and inventive piece of work. Writer/directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Schienert have made a stunning and bold work.