Review: The Daniels’ ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ is Pure Chaos
by Manuel São Bento
April 19, 2022
Since originally debuting at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival back in March, Everything Everywhere All at Once has become one of the most anticipated films of the first half of this year. Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, better known simply as “Daniels“, made their big-screen debut six years ago with the Daniel Radcliffe comedy Swiss Army Man, a movie overlooked by many viewers. Personally, I was fascinated by the strangely captivating mix of a flatulent corpse and the emotional aspects of the screenplay. Since then, the bizarre duo hasn’t made a new feature film, until now… I hope we don’t have to wait another six years for their third flick because Everything Everywhere deserves all the hype its generated over the last month.
From the premise involving hundreds of multiverses and different versions of the protagonist, Evelyn Wang, to the overwhelming editing and visuals, this movie shouldn’t work as well as it does. Conceptually it should be confusing, too complex, and challenging for viewers to form a strong bond with the main character and her family. However, The Daniels demonstrate their immense talent as writer-directors in preventing any of this from happening. Not only do they never lose focus on narrative, but they also embrace chaos as the engine of the whole film. One of the most surprising aspects of the script is linked to the film’s exposition.
Everything Everywhere has an extremely relevant set of rules, technology, and small details that need to be simplified into understandable explanations for the public. With tremendous creativity and assertiveness, The Daniels put viewers on the same page as the protagonist, with every question and revelation about the multiverse and everything it entails being interpreted by the character in the same manner as the audience. Without an exceptionally effective first act, the entire story of this movie would fall into an endless spiral of narrative doubts and frustrations, negatively affecting the overall entertainment value.
Witty comedy is another vital characteristic of Everything Everywhere that helps viewers stay captivated throughout the runtime. Whether in family interactions, with store customers, or blended with the insane action, the humor results in numerous burst-out-laughing moments. In this regard, Asian-American viewers will be able to find even more details worthy of a good laugh or smile as The Daniels depict the immigrant family’s life with great pride and authenticity. Michelle Yeoh contributes significantly to this last point, playing the dozens – or even hundreds – of Evelyns impressively.
Everything Everywhere also ends up becoming a meaningful tribute to the actress. Yeoh’s facial and body expressiveness elevate every line of dialogue, but honestly, it’s her physical prowess that will leave viewers in absolute awe. At nearly 60 years old, the actress manages to perform most of her own stunts, all with shocking elegance and dedication. And it’s not simple choreography, with only one or two fighting partners. These are excruciatingly long sequences, with outstanding execution of intricate, violent attack-defense movements. In fact, action is yet another area where The Daniels shine again.
With evident influence from famous Hong Kong action cinema as well as its biggest icon, Jackie Chan, Everything Everywhere combines the stylish visual effects of Hollywood, the engaging cinematography of Larkin Seiple, and the exuberant editing of Paul Rogers with the genuinely insane fight choreography to deliver some of the best action seen on screen lately. The fierce commitment that Asian stunt teams bring to these set pieces is far from surprising, but it’s interesting to see the American group let themselves be inspired and guided by the people who have done so much to evolve this important filmmaking component.
Nevertheless, it’s the poignant, pertinent study of distinct themes such as nihilism, self-acceptance, regret, forgiveness, or the emotionally draining search for parental approval that ties all the plot points and the Wang family together. In addition to Evelyn, Ke Huy Quan plays Waymond – a wonderful human driven by his feelings, a kind-hearted father who cares about making everyone around him happy – and Stephanie Hsu takes on the role of Joy / Jobu Tupaki – a daughter who merely wishes for the pride and love of her mother who has a hard time accepting her girlfriend, Becky (Tallie Medel), amongst other issues.
It’s the mother-daughter relationship that deeply nourishes Everything Everywhere. Despite following a somewhat predictable path to the resolution, the emotion generated by the confrontations between the two characters is so overwhelming that it’s difficult to hold back the tears. Though their arc is remarkably well explored and concluded, I expected The Daniels to push it further. For example, there’s a scene where Evelyn blames her daughter’s suffering and her life choices on the evil version of her. The dialogue delivered by Yeoh hits the viewer hard, as it demonstrates how disconnected from her daughter Evelyn really is.
This scene and a couple of other moments aren’t as powerful as they could be. Everything Everywhere’s climax is excellently earned, and the eventual resolution of the mother-daughter relationship is undeniably efficient, but some assertive dialogue on Joy’s part is missing. In addition to this less favorable detail, The Daniels hold astonishing control over the movie’s frenetic pacing, not making it any more confusing than it can possibly be. Even so, there are some short periods where the momentum slightly slows down, but since the pacing is so intense for practically the entire runtime, these decelerations seem more like full stops.
These are tiny problems that hardly impact the overall enjoyment of what has become one of my favorite films of the year so far. All of the cast members deliver extraordinary performances – Jamie Lee Curtis also deserves a shoutout – and Son Lux’s score cannot be forgotten. Like all other technicalities, it elevates Everything Everywhere in an awe-inspiring manner. It can be too bizarre and disjointed for some viewers, but overall, it’s unreasonable not to recommend a work that was crafted with so much care and affection.
Everything Everywhere All at Once is undoubtedly one of the best movies of the year, finally pushing The Daniels into the mainstream. Made on this low of a budget, it’s almost humiliating that so many expensive Hollywood blockbusters lack in originality, imagination, excitement, and emotion. Michelle Yeoh leads the troops in a film that also pays homage to the iconic career of the actress who also accompanies the fantastic stunt team in truly outlandish fights. The mother-daughter relationship as the emotional core of the story follows a surprisingly predictable path and needs a bit more polish to deliver an even more powerful climax, but it still induces tears and a genuine sense of concern for the characters. All the elements are so creatively unique that it warrants the clickbait exclamation: “you’ve never seen anything like this!” See it in theaters.