Before it was a narrative convenience allowing for superhero crossovers, the idea of a multiverse – parallel worlds where alternative realities play out – was seen largely in films like Sliding Doors or Back to the Future. Everything Everywhere All At Once reclaims this concept for non-spandex cinema.
In the mindbending new thriller, currently blowing up the US box office, directing duo Daniels have made the first under-the-radar hit of 2022. It details the myriad disappointments of Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), a Chinese-American matriarch who, she learns, represents a worst-case scenario for all of the infinite Evelyns in the multiverse. Some are movie stars, some are accomplished professionals, some are embroiled in passionate love affairs. Only a perfect storm of wrong choices could lead to her running a laundromat with sweet but fed-up husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), fracturing her relationship with gay daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) and being called in for questioning by an unforgiving auditor (Jamie Lee Curtis).
Yet this movie’s meditations are far from somber. It owes more to The Matrix than its initial flow of family drama indicates. The rollicking, dizzying sci-fi machinations kick in during a trip to the IRS office when Waymond, acting as if suddenly possessed, informs Evelyn that she is humanity’s last hope against a growing evil. Using special technology, she can access the memories and feelings of alternate Evelyns, which allows her to tap all of her unfilled potential. Inter-dimensional warriors possess the people around her, and suddenly the Daniels are adding bloody classics like The Raid and Jet Li’s The One to a vast pile of influences and references.
Those also include homages to cult hero Wong Kar-Wai, a one-hit-wonder rock song from the early noughties, and the metatextual alternate paths offered by the stars themselves. Yeoh and Quan got their respective starts around the same time, in the mid-1980s. She parlayed her early action-movie career into international fame, while he was a child star who wasn’t able to match that early success. They’re both terrific, somehow equally convincing as hapless partners in a marriage nearing the rocks and furious warriors, fighting like hell.
By weaving together so much action, drama, comedy, sci-fi and general invention, Daniels repeatedly set high bars for their movie to clear. Most of the time they do so easily – a wild joke will turn into a wilder running gag, or the actors will deliver a touching scene while voicing a pair of inanimate objects. But there are some stumbles around the two-hour mark when the film gives too much time to too many of Evelyn’s other versions. The previous Daniels collaboration, Swiss Army Man, fell apart rather more dramatically though – and this one is far more satisfying. Could it be 2022’s biggest word-of-mouth hit? We hope so.