SXSW Review: Everything Everywhere All at Once

The type of unexpected and bombastic film you would expect from the Daniels, Everything Everywhere All at Once is a 132-energy ball that explodes the second the movie begins.

By Sean Blanford

Everyone from time to time has second-guessed decisions they have made and what would have happened if they chose a different path. It could be something as small as going with the chicken even though the fish sounded really good, or a significant, life-changing like a job you accept or who you decide to spend the rest of your life with. You might not think about it at the time, but all of these decisions can affect your future. It’s messy and complicated, but that’s what life is. In the latest film from the directing duo The Daniels, that messiness is on display for the world to see.

The film is broken up into three parts (everything, everywhere, all at once) and is led by Michelle Yeoh as Evelyn. She is buried under a mountain of receipts and documents for an upcoming IRS audit that could decide the fate of the family’s laundromat business. Her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) wants to have fun, trying to lighten the mood by sticking google-eyes on all the bags of laundry and moving some to the office because they are “happier there.” He also wants to be happy somewhere else, petitioning to file for divorce from Evelyn. Their daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) is in a same-sex relationship and is distant from the family, in Evelyn’s eyes only coming around when she needs something. Evelyn’s father, Gong Gong (James Hong), also lives with them, and much to Joy’s dismay, her girlfriend is introduced to Gong Gong as a “good friend” by Eveyln because she doesn’t know what to do otherwise. The initial ten minutes of the film is a whirlwind of conversation between the family and the regulars of the laundromat, setting up our cast of characters for what’s to come next.

On the way to the audit, we notice Waymond acting strange. Jerking his head back and forth and for some reason opening an umbrella in an elevator to block the security camera, a new, more serious version of himself appears in front of Evelyn and explains that there is a way out of this. Either turn one way to the audit or turn another and hide in the janitor’s closet to get further instructions. Evelyn decides to play it safe and chooses the former, going to the audit where we are first introduced to Dierdre (Jamie Lee Curtis). She is no-nonsense and very good at what she does, showing off her employee recognition awards that, for some reason, are shaped like a particular style of back-end sex toys. Evelyn begins to regret her decision and looks at the instructions Waymond gave to her in the elevator. At this point, we are first introduced to the multi-versal time manipulation that is the crux of the film narrative the rest of the way.

Everything Everywhere All at Once could have been a more straightforward story about finding ways to make things right while also looking at our past and seeing what could have happened if we made certain decisions differently. However, this is the directing duo most notably known for Swiss Army Man, so the absurdity is ramped to maximum and still works even after the system explodes in a blaze of glory. Intertwined in the different universes of Evelyn’s (actress, kung fu master, hibachi chef, etc.) where she gets to where she is by changing her path (not getting married, not having a child), everyone who is connected to the “Alphaverse” can level up their abilities by doing tasks that are outside of the norms. It could be as simple as punching the auditor in the face, as painful as giving yourself papercuts, or a pleasurable (?) as using the employee recognition awards as their shape is intended.

It would be easy to go on about everything that happens throughout the film, but that would be a disservice to the audience. It may be hyperbolic to say, but this is truly a film you must see to believe. At its core, this is a beautiful family drama held together by the lead actors’ performances. It may be obvious because of how great she is as an actress, but Michelle Yeoh giving is giving it her all and then some. Evelyn may be the glue trying to hold this family together, but Stephanie Hsu’s Joy is where we are getting our emotional investment. This is the type of performance that will hopefully put her on the map for years to come.

While the film does lose the plot in the second act, there is so much to love about Everything Everywhere All at Once that it is an easy recommendation for those willing to go in with an open mind. Combining a stellar cast with sure-handed directing and storytelling, it’s the type of film that is just pure unapologetic fun.

Grade: 4.25/5 (A-)

Everything Everywhere All at Once will be distributed in the United States by A24 and will be released on March 25th. The film is Rated R for violence, sexual material, and language.

Author: Sean Blanford

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