I don’t normally write my reviews with too much personal reflection; I tend to talk about a film’s emotional resonance, whether the filmmakers succeed in their intentions or if they fall short. I’ll get into a bit of plot synopsis, and I normally wrap it up with examinations of the performances and the film’s overall themes.
If a movie’s good, or bad, these explorations can be easy. If a movie’s great, I try to temper my enthusiasm so as not to overwhelm the review with personal stuff.
Everything Everywhere All at Once wrecked me for two weeks straight. When I stumbled out of this one, I walked to my car in a daze. I understand how people don’t really read reviews for any kind of deeper insight, except as a kind of Consumer Reports take on whether a movie is worth seeing or not. I realize that this will not be that kind of review. If it were, all I would say is to see this film immediately, and if you did not like it, I really have nothing to offer you than a shrug.
But for me, Everything Everywhere All at Once is why I see movies. I chase this feeling every time, and it is rare when I get it. Every once in a while, those theater lights dim, the curtains open, and we fall into infinity. It does not happen every time, but when it does, oh boy.
A few movies out there hit me in such a personal way that it becomes extraordinarily difficult for me to articulate it without sounding hyperbolic or treacly. I cannot step outside myself to see the effects my words have on other people, and I am very conscious of holding back for the sake of clarity and brevity. But with this film, I want to open the floodgates. I want the waves of my excitement and joy to flood the world. It’s that kind of movie.
With Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s (known as Daniels) second film, these two filmmakers have reached a level of brilliance and talent that we have not seen for quite some time. Everything Everywhere All at Once has quite a few films in its DNA – a bit of The Matrix, a bit of Michel Gondry, a bit of Wong Kar Wai, even a bit of Rick and Morty and the recent plot machinations of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
But Daniels blends, weaves, and mixes all this stuff together that feels volatile, and alive, and something that could explode at any moment, a chemical reaction that threatens everything around it. Instead of exploding, though, Daniels catalyzes that energy and sends its audience straight into space, like a rocket escaping Earth’s gravity, like a bird flying from its nest for the very first time, pushing its wings to their limits.
I feel like the last time a movie had this kind of effect on me was 2004’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, another film that uses science fiction tropes not to explore our future or our destiny, but to map the human heart in all its complexity and power.
There are moments of such sublime cinema in Everything Everywhere All at Once that have no right to exist. Like “Meet me in Montauk” in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, there is genuine magic in it, and it is astounding how this collection of images and sounds takes us to a place of perfection. It is a precisely directed movie, but it feels like chaos, an overwhelming tidal power that sweeps you away as you watch it.
Yet, while the movie plays with a huge canvas, it is intimate in its target. The most universal of stories are still very specific to their time and place; it is all about how we as an audience respond to those specificities with our own empathy that fills the story with its scope.
I love that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has introduced audiences to the concept of the multiverse, because it helps to have that shorthand to understand where this movie wants to take you. But Daniels do not have the budget of a Marvel Studios to show you those sights; instead, they use every bit of visual imagination and skill to make these ideas palpable.
This may be the best edited movie in many years, with rapid fire imagery that still catches hold in our collective imaginations. But Daniels also fills each image with context and meaning, so that even as the film’s ideas pummel us we can still keep up with them, contextually.
The story centers around Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh, in a career-best performance), the co-owner of a laundromat, and stuck in a rut. Her husband Waymond (the excellent Ke Huy Quan) is considering divorce, her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) is having a hard time communicating with Evelyn about her girlfriend, and her father Gong Gong (James Hong) is coming in from China and expects a party. Evelyn is also undergoing a tax audit and her auditor Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis) has very little patience with Evelyn and her family.
But something very strange happens at the IRS office – her husband suddenly seems to change personality and tells Evelyn that she is the only one who can save the Multiverse. Evelyn, it seems, is the center of a great conflict in the many other universes that she exists in, and a dark entity is destroying everything in its path. That entity, for some reason, is centering on Evelyn.
Evelyn must now navigate all the other known universes to try to stop this entity – a being that Evelyn shares responsibility for. Throughout the many universes, Evelyn sees different choices, different destinies, and must come to terms with those choices if she is to stop the darkness from consuming everything.
It is best that I do not dive too much into the plot – this movie is an experience, and I wouldn’t want to take anything away from the audience sitting down to see this movie. On the surface, this is a film steeped in science fiction ideas and tropes – but at the center is a very human story that most everyone can find relatable.
While the tapestry is vast, it is in the threading that this story truly reveals itself. It can be overwhelming by design. It is the nature of the experience that makes Everything Everywhere All at Once so unique. This is a lot of movie, even over its substantial runtime. This movie says more about the state of humanity than some filmmakers’ careers do in their entirety.
Everything Everywhere All at Once is one of those movies that comes around every so often – who knows what kind of critical response this will bring because the film generates something so personal. For some people, this movie will slide right off them without any impact. For others, this will stab deep into the heart.
This film shook me. It is very difficult to examine with any kind of detachment – it feels very personal to me even though it is not really about me in any way. That is the power of great cinema – it can unify an audience to a character that they have very little in common with in ways that feel essential and genuine.
It is a spectacular vision of the infinite, and a very heartfelt examination of a family coming to grips with itself. It is literally everything, everywhere, all at once, and I am in awe of what this movie did to me. If 2022 gets a better movie than this, in my estimation, this will have been a truly magnificent year. This is a masterpiece.
EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE REVIEW SCORE: 10 OUT OF 10
Alan Cerny has been writing about film for more than 20 years, for such sites as Ain’t It Cool News, CHUD, Birth Movies Death, and ComingSoon. He is a member of the Houston Film Critics Society since 2011. STAR WARS biased. Steven Spielberg once called Alan a “very good writer” and Alan has the signed letter to prove it, so it must be true.