AUSTIN — How filmmakers Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (a.k.a. the Daniels) can ground their heightened view of the world should be one of the great wonders of our time. This is especially true if you catch their latest hilarious and sincere cinematic trip, Everything Everywhere All at Once.
The Daniels have this innate ability to flip the world on its head and poke around in the weirdest, most imaginative (and sometimes darkest) corners of the human mind. Maybe you remember when they made a dead Daniel Radcliffe fart his way into our hearts with Swiss Army Man? Or, perhaps when Michael Abbott Jr. horsed around with his small-town pals in The Death of Dick? (The latter of which only Scheinert directed.) And now we have the Daniels’ most ambitious and wildly creative work yet. There’s no definitive way to describe what this film accomplishes. It lives up to its title by feeling like everything, coming from everywhere and happening all at once. It’s The Matrix. It’s a Charlie Kaufman and Tarsem Singh movie. It’s nothing like anything you’ve seen before. It’s explosive, unpredictable, and totally gonzo!
In the film, international treasure Michelle Yeoh portrays Evelyn Wang, an exhausted Chinese American woman who runs a laundromat with her husband (Ke Huy Quan, making a very welcome return after a 25-year absence). Evelyn is hardworking and doesn’t put up with much. Somebody could have the wrong colors in the wash, and she’ll shut it down until it’s corrected. Her extreme focus and personal interests have caused her to unplug from the relationships within her family, most notably her daughter, Eleanor (a terrific Stephanie Hsu).
When they all go on an adventure together to do everyone’s favorite annual activity – their taxes (ugh) – this is when the movie slips away from anything remotely ordinary. Instead, it takes a nosedive straight down the rabbit hole – only instead of Wonderland, it’s a fractured reality that features everything in the kitchen sink. (Or, as this film puts it, everything you could throw on a bagel. That reference will make sense when you see the movie, or if you pay close attention to the marketing, such as the artwork that accompanies Son Lux’s rockin’ original song “This is A Life.” Talk about music that makes you feel like melting butter with its beautifully eerie harmonies.)
The concept of the multiverse comes flooding in for Evelyn. She learns that she can access the emotions, memories, and skills of any version of herself from another reality (and they’re endless). As teased in the trailer, on other worlds, Everlyn is a successful actress, a chef, a martial arts master (who can defeat her foes with just her pinky), a rock (yes, a literal rock), and someone who engages in slap fights with hotdogs for fingers. Seriously. I don’t know how the Daniels thought these things up, and that’s not even the half of it. It gets more bonkers than that, most notably when it comes to what she must do to conjure up these skills.
On the one hand, you’ll marvel over every visual that’s thrown at you, but on the other hand, it’s admittedly exhausting at times. It’s like being in a two-hour movie where the beat drops. It doesn’t come up for a lot of air, but when it does, it’s quite moving. You will especially feel the sucker punch during its final moments. Among its otherworldly high jinks and outstanding comedy is a beating heart for the relationship between a mother and daughter. But the heavy emotions don’t just exist there. Additionally, there’s Everlyn’s husband, father (a great James Hong) and Jamie Lee Curtis’ sidesplitting, pencil-pushing bureaucrat character.
Everything Everywhere is, no doubt, going to be one of the strangest movies you’ll ever see. But you’ll be thinking about its themes and how its stunning visuals compliment them for some time to come. Yeoh is an absolute delight, and any work that shines a light on her talents as a performer deserves high praise, and this A24 oddity is very much one worth celebrating.
Everything Everywhere All at Once opens theatrically on Mar. 25.