I’d heard nothing but great things about “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” but when I finally sat down to watch it, I’ll admit I was still a bit skeptical. The concept sounded wonderful. The cast seemed stellar. But as I watched the trailers and calculated how many Whoppers to eat per minute to make my box of candy last through the runtime, I couldn’t help but fear that this film would fall just short of all the hype.
It’s not that I didn’t have faith that this film would be good, but I wasn’t sure if any movie could live up to the expectations thrust upon this one. Multiple people have told me that this film is the best they’ve ever seen. It’s the highest rated movie of all time on Letterboxd. Forgive my caution, but few things hurt enjoyment more than unrealistic expectations. I’ve been hurt before.
And yet, despite everything I just said, I don’t think the hype has done “Everything Everywhere” justice. I say that not because this film is somehow even better than everyone says it is, but because the flood of praise directed towards this film’s creativity and innovation overlook something crucial to this film’s quality: “Everything Everywhere” has a lot of heart.
But first, the fun stuff.
As the title indicates, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” has a lot going on. The film follows Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), a downtrodden Chinese immigrant with a failing laundromat, an audit from the IRS and a tenuous relationship with every single member of her family. After an encounter with a parallel version of her husband (Ke Huy Quan), Evelyn gains the ability to jump into the minds and bodies of alternate universe variations of herself, granting her their memories, experiences and skills, which she must utilize to combat an extraordinarily powerful extradimensional threat.
Through this premise, Evelyn and the audience are granted glimpses into the existences of Evelyns whose lives have taken vastly different trajectories. The film weaves a violent, emotional and wildly entertaining tapestry of parallel reality “what ifs,” while still keeping its action-packed pacing intact. It’s kind of like if “It’s a Wonderful Life” was an interdimensional martial arts movie (and wasn’t really anything like “It’s a Wonderful Life” at all).
Truth be told, it’s hard to know what exactly to call this film. “Everything Everywhere” is a rule-bending, genre-warping, multi-stylistic chimera of a movie. It’s a chaotic sci-fi-action-comedy-drama about alternate realities and complicated family dynamics and immigrant experiences and … tax fraud. Sometimes, it’s also about rocks.
I realize that tagline isn’t exactly concise or digestible, but to be honest, it’s still far too reductive. The film attempts to be a great multitude of things, and, amazingly, it succeeds at all of them. Whether it’s temporarily masquerading as a deadly serious Wong Kar-wai-esque character drama or a silly homage to “Ratatouille”, “Everything Everywhere” holds on to its smooth pacing, mesmerizing visuals and strong sense of identity.
Having attempted to describe it, I feel as though this really shouldn’t work on a fundamental level. Having seen it with my own two eyes, however, I know that it does. It’s so engrossing that I forgot to ration my Whopper intake and ate the whole box before the second act (You thought the Whoppers thing earlier was just a one-off gag, but it’s come full circle. I call that “Chekhov’s Whoppers“).
In its interdimensional splendor, “Everything Everywhere” captures the scale of the multiverse and the cosmic insignificance of the audience, but it isn’t bleak or nihilistic. Evelyn’s fight to save her family (and every single universe while she’s at it) assures that, even when nothing matters, there are things worth existing for. It makes you feel small in a way that’s a little scary, but strangely affirming, like an existential crisis mixed with a big warm hug.
As absurd, ambitious and outside the box as this movie is, the glue that holds “Everything Everywhere” together is its deeply sincere and solid emotional core. Underneath the hypnotic action is a deeply empathetic story and an assurance that every aspect of this film, no matter how zany, contributes something meaningful.
It isn’t hard for sentimentality to be drowned out by spectacle, but “Everything Everywhere” uses its extravagance to elevate its substance. Rather than leaving it in the dust, every joke, stylistic exploration and cultural homage propels the film’s heartfelt narrative. It’s what allows a film with a nearly-omnipotent, multiverse-destroying antagonist to feel emotionally grounded.
There’s no denying that creativity is important, but without an earnest emotional center, it’s far too easy for a novel idea to become something messy and unsubstantial. It isn’t too hard to make something that’s just plain weird, but “Everything Everywhere All at Once” shows that heart can elevate something strange into something spectacular.
I laughed, I cried and, even if only for a little while afterward, I felt a little different about the universe(s). If you haven’t already, give “Everything Everywhere All at Once” a watch.
The Gerrit Punt PO ’24 that wrote this is apparently from a parallel universe where he only includes like, five jokes in his articles. He’s also a little too amused by the phrase “Chekhov’s whoppers.”