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The Dartmouth
May 30, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Review: ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ does everything right

The film’s unique brand of humor, rich performances and cinematic score create a fun and deeply sincere film.

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Anyone who considers themselves a fan of film has, at some point, become familiar with a sort of dreary stagnation with their passion for the medium. After so many movies and so many bags of popcorn, you find yourself growing dreadfully numb to an art form that once inspired and thrilled you like no other. For a while, I felt this numbness, and I even thought it might kill my love for film entirely. It wasn’t until I saw the wonderfully inventive “Everything Everywhere All at Once” — the latest from writer-directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert — that I rediscovered, through the most emotionally uplifting cinematic experience I’ve ever had, my profound love for the screen. Through an original and extremely creative story that was expertly directed, acted and scored, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” becomes something far greater than the sum of its many parts. For me, it became one of my favorite films of all time.

“Everything Everywhere All at Once” tells the story of Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), an aging Chinese immigrant who co-owns a laundromat with her spritely husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan). At the film’s beginning, Evelyn’s life is a static, stressful mess characterized by bitter regret and crushing mundanity. Her husband, who loves her dearly but feels like he has no other recourse in the face of her apathy, is seeking a divorce; her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu), whose sexuality Evelyn has a difficult time coming to terms with, has crippling insecurities that Evelyn is woefully unprepared to deal with. Additionally, her disapproving father Gong-Gong (James Hong), who effectively disowned her for marrying Waymond and is the source of the intergenerational trauma at the heart of the film, is visiting from China. On top of all that, she’s also being audited by the IRS. Things go from stressful to surreal when, while dealing with an odious auditor played by Jamie Lee Curtis, a version of Waymond from another reality appears and drags Evelyn into a bizarre adventure in which the fate of the multiverse is at stake and only she can save it.

As you might have guessed from the film’s name, the film  contains a small universe of moving parts, all of which are done well and deserve praise. All the actors bring their A-game as they play a myriad of alternate versions of themselves in a number of whacky realities,like one where humanity evolved to have hot dogs for fingers that squirt out condiments when aroused. At its core though is Yeoh. She is intrepid and versatile in this film, and I’m grateful she was given the ability to put her acting prowess on full display. Her martial arts skills, her perfect comedic timing and her immaculate ability to convey the full range of human emotion with the most minute actions are a joy to watch as she cycles through being a world-class hibachi chef, a movie star, a blind opera singer, a dominatrix, a rock and everything in between.

As amazing as Yeoh is, however, it’s Quan that stole the show for me. A former child-star who played Data in “The Goonies” and Short Round in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” this movie marks his return to film after a 20-year hiatus — and what a triumphant return it is. The moral compass of the movie, Quan brings to the screen a supreme and endearing pathos along with an effortless comedic draw that I wholeheartedly believe will win him an Oscar for best supporting actor. It is in large part due to his moving performance that this movie had me in tears for the better part of its second half. Hong and Curtis are also great, but that’s to be expected from bonafide industry veterans. Hsu, who I’d never seen before this, was also a delight and I look forward to seeing a lot more of her in the future. 

Along with the performances, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” excels at everything pretty much everywhere else. The fight scenes, choreographed by the same stunt coordinators who did “Shang-Chi,” play out like a mesmerizing ballet that feels more authentic because of Yeoh and Quan’s stunt backgrounds. The editing — an indispensable part of the film’s comedic appeal — makes smart use of match cuts to elicit a sense of whiplash as Evelyn travels through the multiverse. The visual effects are on par with any mammoth-sized Marvel production — a feat made all the more impressive by the mind-boggling fact that the majority of them were somehow done by a group of only five people. 

While all these components are essential to what makes this film so good, I have to single out the score, composed by American experimental band Son Lux, as being particularly important to the film’s emotional potency. The tender scenes — like those set in a universe where Waymond and Evelyn never married — as well as the action sequences — like one where a woman utilizes her leashed Pomeranian as a deadly projectile — are beautifully complimented and heightened by a mix of foreboding yet energetic electronica and somber piano. Son Lux’s rendition of Clair de Lune, and its employment in this movie, gives me goosebumps anytime I hear or think about it, and probably will for the rest of my life.

Beyond its technical aspects, the film’s meditations on nihilism and optimism struck such a chord with me. In a cold, uncaring multiverse where nothing matters, the film makes an argument for kindness so compelling that I left the theater with my worldview forever changed. This movie was so life-affirming and joyously cathartic that I had to see it the very next day, once more a week later, and I wouldn’t hesitate to see it a fourth time if given the chance. On neither rewatch did the film get any less enjoyable or emotionally resonant. I was, and continue to be on each watch, moved to tears by a majority of the scenes in the second half of this wacky, unclassifiable family drama.

“Daniels,” as the creative duo behind the film like to be called, have created something truly special with this genre-bending acid trip of a film. “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is a triumph in every sense of the word. It’s movies like this one — bold original films that push the boundaries of conventional cinema — that remind people like me of why we love film in the first place. Profound and versatile performances by each and every member of the cast coupled with excellence in every aspect of its craftsmanship work to deliver, in the most complex way possible, the best film ever made about doing laundry and taxes.

Rating: ★★★★★