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'Everything Everywhere All at Once' is the first truly great genre film of 2022
Michelle Yeoh delivers a brilliant performance in one of the best, and most compelling, sci-fi films ever.
Science fiction can predict the future. It can open our minds to what's possible within our own generation and within future ones, shining a bright light on what might be our darkest hour or our greatest hope. But the future isn't always the whole story with sci-fi. Sometimes, the best stories in the genre are the ones that use lofty concepts to remind us what's in front of us right here, right now, and to let us know that all we have to do to be the best version of ourselves is take a moment, focus, and hold on to what's important.
Everything Everywhere All At Once is that kind of science fiction film.
The directing duo known as The Daniels — Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert — have crafted a visually and emotionally stunning new film that was selected to open the 2022 SXSW Film Festival. It is dazzling, funny, and packed with memorable moments. By the end, thanks to The Daniels' phenomenal direction and effortless way of shaping this complicated story, coupled with a career-best performance from Michelle Yeoh, the movie has become one of the year's great genre films. It is a life-affirming reminder of the superpowers we often have hiding in plain sight.
Yeoh plays Evelyn, who, on the surface, is one of the less-remarkable characters in her legendary filmography. Evelyn is, in a word, busy. She runs a laundromat with her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), takes care of her elderly father (the great James Hong), and puzzles over her daughter Joy's (Stephanie Hsu) place in the world. She also can't seem to get her taxes done right, a problem which isn't helped along by a gruff IRS agent (Jamie Lee Curtis) who can't stop groaning at the family's vast pile of receipts and forms.
Evelyn barely has time to breathe, let along devote substantial focus to any one task for too long, so when she starts receiving messages that suggest she might be the only person who can save the multiverse, she's skeptical to say the least. But saving all of existence waits for no one, and eventually Evelyn will have to embrace not just her apparent fate, but every fate that could have been along the way.
We will avoid spoilers as to why Evelyn is apparently the multiverse's chosen savior, or what saving the multiverse looks like for her, because those are best experienced for the first time watching the movie. But it's worth noting how much Everything Everywhere All At Once is able to achieve within the scope of this wild premise, and why that makes it a must-see film. The visuals, which include everything from Yeoh exercising her legendary martial arts prowess to instantaneous leaps between vastly different universes, are as technically impressive as they are emotionally compelling. Even when the movie follows Evelyn through her normal workaday existence in the laundromat, or in the crowded family apartment right above it, The Daniels keep the camera moving with nimble grace, emphasizing the state of near-constant motion that's about to come.
By the time the multiverse of it all kicks in, we're leaping between worlds, watching the intricate juxtaposition of parallel storylines and realities. Sometimes a punch is thrown in one reality, and felt in another. Sometimes our focus is drawn from looking at person to looking at a sentient rock. The film propels to an emotionally profound conclusion with a frenzy that's equal parts Hong Kong action epic and indie character drama. And, despite the odd combo, it all absolutely works.
The most powerful aspect of Everything Everywhere All At Once is the execution of the more human elements that anchor all of the out-there sci-fi. At first, Yeoh's character is a classic example of a person who's lost but doesn't realize it, and her trip through her own personal multiverse serves as an opportunity to let her discover what she's missing.
Yeoh marshals years of powerful, understated acting work and brings it all to bear on that feeling, and in the process imbues Evelyn with something more than a searching soul at loose ends with itself. Whether she's fighting a group of office workers taken over by an unseen force, or trying to reckon with the realities of a marriage gone stale, she delivers a raw emotional yearning that's as powerful as any kick or punch she throws.
Everything Everywhere quickly solidifies as a modern masterpiece because of its ability to merge all of its pie-in-the-sky, outside-the-box ideas into one deeply resonate narrative. The high-concept, sci-fi battle for the fate of all existence — and one woman's singular struggle to reconcile who she is with who she'd like to be — all of those elements coexist in a remarkable alchemy that subverts expectations and elevates the genre. Each aspect of the story feeds off each other and the filmmakers effortlessly service the character-first story with emotionally honest choices.
The movie fully lives up to the promise of its title. It tells a story about how much we as a species have to offer each other, at a time when purpose and hope feel in short supply. But you'll find an abundance of both, along with an exceptional display of craft, in Everything Everywhere.
Everything Everywhere All At Once is now playing in limited release in theaters.