There are some out-there filmmakers working today, but few match the movies put out by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, collectively known as the Daniels. Their feature film debut, Swiss Army Man, featured a farting, talking, and surprisingly useful corpse, and The Death of Dick Long — a solo effort from Scheinert — has a host of weird stuff happen over one long crazy night.
They’re back together again in Everything Everywhere All at Once, a film that is almost indescribable. The film centers on the Wang family — mom Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh), dad Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu), and grandfather Gong (James Hong) — who live above the laundromat that they own. The business is being audited, for which they have to meet with Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis), a frumpy, no-nonsense IRS employee.
It’s what happens after they arrive for the audit that boggles the mind. Waymond appears to take on a new persona, telling Evelyn she can choose one of two paths, one that proceeds with the audit and one that doesn’t. Her choice, which comes with the aid of two wireless earpieces, triggers a multiverse that expands exponentially as the film goes along, giving viewers a seemingly infinite number of each character in the film.
The rest of the film is a feat of storytelling that can only be experienced, not explained. Each new multiverse is more bizarre than the last, containing — among other things — lots of martial arts, a reality where everyone has long, floppy “hot dog fingers,” the worship of an everything bagel, Evelyn as a movie star, and much more wacky stuff. The editing of the film is so quick, especially toward the end, that it’s impossible to track everything.
Equally as strange as the different realities themselves are the odd choices characters have to make to go to another reality or assume another persona. Sometimes it’s as simple as blowing in someone’s ear, but other times it involves something like a specifically-shaped employee award which a character uses in an eye-popping and hilarious way.
The amount of ridiculous imagery and different realities with which the audience is presented can elicit only one reaction: loud and sustained laughter. And yet, as funny and out-there as the film is, it’s also a complex and emotional family drama, with weighty concepts like marriage turmoil, dementia, and parental expectations coming into play.
The references the film contains are myriad, including The Matrix, Ratatouille, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and, of course, classic Hong Kong martial arts movies. But what’s great about the homages is that each fits seamlessly into the story the Daniels are trying to tell. They’re not subtle, per se, but neither are they so overt that the film stops in its tracks to make sure the audience is on the same page.
Also making the film work is idea of having “ordinary” people performing the fight scenes. Yeoh, of course, has been in many martial arts films, from ones with Jackie Chan to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to the recent Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Still, at 60 years old, it’s impressive how she is able to command the screen with her action skills.
Equally notable is Quan, who’s had limited acting appearances since his roles in Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom and The Goonies. The way he transforms from a mild-mannered husband to an acrobatic fighter in mere seconds is a sight to behold.
Everything Everywhere All at Once is so visually arresting and full of WTF moments that it is one of those movies that must be experienced on the big screen with a theater full of people. The Daniels have some crazy stuff running their imaginative minds, but knowing how to pair the insanity with heart is what sets them apart.
Everything Everywhere All at Once is now playing in theaters.