Everything Everywhere All at Once, true to its title, can be a little chaotic and unruly, but it’s still a hilarious and impeccably crafted bit of invention that lands more often than it falters.
It’s been a while since there was a more aptly titled movie than Everything Everywhere All at Once, a sci-fi martial arts dramedy so fully jammed with gags and ideas and exposition that it threatens to become tiresome even in its obvious virtuosity. Directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (aka Daniels) have created something undeniably unique here.
The great Michelle Yeoh (absolutely playing into her legacy as the modern queen of martial arts films) plays Evelyn, a middle-aged Chinese immigrant who, along with her sad sack husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), runs a laundromat. She’s also burdened by a fraught relationship with both her father, Gong Gong (James Hong), whose approval she can never seem to have, and her daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu), whom she loves but keeps at arm’s length with her own brand of disapproval. Oh, and there’s a pesky IRS audit of the business.
In the midst of all this, we learn that a universe-destroying event is taking place across every parallel dimension, and it turns out that Evelyn is the only person with the unique ability to project herself into those alternate realities to confront the culprit behind it all, who just happens to be a version of Joy. What follows is a breathless, hilarious, and frequently bafflingly expository trip through dozens of other iterations of Evelyn and the other characters, including worlds where she’s a massive movie star attending a glitzy premiere, one where everyone has hot dogs for hands (endlessly funny), Bill and Ted-style goofball futures — you name it, it’s in here.
The whole thing can also be exasperating. Though ultimately the destination is simple — Evelyn reuniting her fractured family — the immediate stakes often track as fairly nebulous. What anyone is attempting to do at any particular moment isn’t always clear, and that’s compounded by a (very deliberate) lack of concrete “rules” that govern all the dimension-hopping, which happens constantly. In other words, it’s not always easy to track, which is absolutely by design, but mileages may vary on how this lands. The narrative thread tends to get lost in the chaos as the situation becomes more and more unruly.
Nevertheless, the craft on display is outstanding. The Daniels manage to make all that explaining and chaos feel breezy, with an unflagging pace created by consistently inventive cutting and camerawork, with just about every trick in the book — from split screens to simple matches on action — thrown at you. The fight sequences themselves are sturdy, if perhaps a little too quickly cut. This film practically cries out for the wide-angle master shot choreography of ’90s Stanley Tong/Jackie Chan collaborations, but that probably wasn’t feasible on a budget as low and schedule as tight as this production likely had. In truth, the idea that someone wrote a check for this movie seems like a fantasy all its own. That the final product is this well crafted is just as big a coup.