Multiverses are hard to deliver, and they are not exactly my cup of tea. Characters lose true agency; their growth and development arcs are diminished, and the metaphorical concept once marked by infinite possibilities begins to wear out into commercial cliché. Likewise, my stance on martial arts films’, despite their cultural significance, is matched with similar doubts about their objectives and themes. One could still rattle on about how dreadfully numb these action genres leave moviegoers after the initial excitement fades away, but I have changed my mind to a recent blockbuster—and it’s genuinely hard to find a place to begin articulating my love for it.
In the theater, Everything Everywhere All At Once was an extraordinary experience. Directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (collectively known as the “Daniels”), the genre-defying hit managed to elude all ordinary standards of structure and coherence, holding infinite universes at stake while turning Michelle Yeoh’s fingers into floppy hot dogs. No singular synapsis could quite capture its essence in entirety. Per the title, the film is quite literally everything everywhere swirling by in an instant on the silver screen.
Standing at the hub of it all is Evelyn Quan Wang (Michelle Yeoh), an overwhelmed and aging Chinese immigrant who runs a laundromat with her spritely husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan). Her life in this universe is a hectic mess stemming from unmet expectations and regrets. Despite Waymond’s honest love for her, he is seeking a divorce after finding no remedy to her constant apathy. Her father, addressed as Gong Gong (James Hong), who disowned her decades prior for marrying Waymond, is coming in to celebrate his birthday. His acrid disapproval, though being met up by unwilling smiles and respect, is the source of the insidious intergenerational trauma at the core of Evelyn’s story. Her daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu), has a girlfriend named Becky (Tallie Medel) and a woeful amount of insecurities. Evelyn is wholly unprepared to accept or deal with any of Joy’s problems, pain, nor her sexuality. To top it all off with a rotten cherry, they are being audited by the IRS. Things start getting bizarre when, while approaching a dreaded meeting with the chilling tax auditor Deirdre (Jame Lee Curtis), Waymond is possessed by a novel version of himself from the “Alpha-verse” and pushes Evelyn into a cosmic battle against the rampant power of Jobu Tupaki, who turns out to be a familiar face…
The actors’ versatility was remarkable. Each character had alternate versions of themselves traversing through parallel realities, which were consistently executed on point and often tinted with humor (namely one raccoon-themed parody of Brad Bird’s Ratatouille). The choreographed action sequences kept the audience on the edge of their seats, while the sci-fi journeys were key to its fun. But what truly struck a chord with me was the charm of this vulnerable cross-cultural, generational narrative, characterized by unspeakable pain and willingness to sacrifice. Evelyn goes to great lengths to retrieve herself and loved ones from destruction, but unlike the usual heroine tale, she is not alone against evil. On the other hand, the film’s evil is not confined to typical villainous desires or personas but is marked by an impalpable sting that lingers. This stands at the heart of the movie’s handling of modern-day nihilism and existential puzzlements, blurring lines between the good, the bad, and the aching.
It is worth noting that directors Daniels jam-packed the film with clever motifs and symbolism—ones relievingly free of trite metaphors and pretension. From Jobu Tupaki’s suffocating bagel of doom, to Waymond’s joyous googly-eyes that act to counteract the cyclical darkness, their restraints on wild ideas were as non-existent as limitations to the number of possible alternate universes. Like Evelyn, the directorial duo possessed the will to be daring; they only had to take creative responsibility for their decisions, and I am so glad that it all worked out.There is no strict measure or qualification for true creativity, but I sure like my multiverses bold and spicy with a tinge of sentimentality. Fulfilling, yet humbling; tear-jerking, yet exhilarating, Everything Everywhere All At Once is an endearing ballad, laying new paths for experimental storytellers yet to come.