Many a fine 12-year-old wiseass has made this crack at a bagel shop: “Is it really an everything bagel? Are there gummy worms on it? Nine-volt batteries? Dinosaur bones?” It usually ends there. But for the writer-director team known as “Daniels” (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert), it’s one of many bonkers gags in Everything Everywhere All At Once that feels like a throwaway at first, then builds with stream-of-consciousness logic into a running joke, and then, even more surprisingly, into something profound.
This maximalist sledgehammer of a film—something of a cross between Cloud Atlas, Enter The Void, Kung Fu Hustle, and a full season of Rick And Morty—has the energy, insanity, and exuberance of Daniels’s DJ Snake and Lil John “Turn Down For What” video and the shock value of their “farting Daniel Radcliffe corpse” movie Swiss Army Man. Hopefully this serves as a warning that it is defiantly not for everyone. For those who revel in chaos, however, this movie is a gift.
The film, which uses the gimmick of jumping between parallel universes to explore, essentially, how to be your best self, is awash in zany sci fi culs-du-sac, sly movie references, and a deranged high fructose attitude that scoffs at the idea of everything but the kitchen sink. The Daniels want infinite kitchen sinks.
Our hero is Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), a Chinese immigrant running a California laundromat facing down a few existential crises. Beyond the fact that she feels like she’s squandered her potential, there’s the daughter (Stephanie Hsu) who feels unloved; her visiting, judgmental father (James Hong), who will likely not accept his granddaughter being gay; her husband (Ke Huy Quan), who recognizes Evelyn’s unhappiness and is about to serve divorce papers (though not for the reason you may think); and then, adding just enough weight to crack the lens of her reality, a tax audit. Staring Evelyn down, in a putrid wig, is Deirdre Beaubeirdra (Jamie Lee Curtis), an I.R.S. employee who, at one point, will lumber around like Michael Myers when things go haywire.
Michelle Yeoh (fresh from a stellar run on Star Trek: Discovery) is tremendous as Evelyn, a flummoxed mom who, out of nowhere, is thrust into the role of action hero. Because of the ludicrous plot, her body is regularly inhabited by different iterations of herself, sometimes shifting multiple times in the same shot. In the “alpha verse” (not ours) something evil is happening, and only Evelyn can stop it, so she is recruited to save us all. There are difficult roles, and then there are acting gigs in which the lead is asked to do, well, everything, everywhere, all at once.
The “rules” of Everything Everywhere are complex, but the gist is that different decisions cause splinters in time, and, somewhere out there, anything that could have happened actually did. So, that means there is a timeline where Evelyn decides not to leave home as a young woman, move to America, and start a laundromat, and instead she becomes an international film star whose career very much resembles Michelle Yeoh’s and lives in an world that looks like Wong Kar-wai’s In The Mood For Love. But on a broader scale, there’s a world where the “wrong” 2001-esque Early Man gets bonked on the head, thus sending humanity down a path to grow hot dog fingers. (Just go with it.)
At Evelyn’s side is her husband, Waymond, and for viewers of a certain age (i.e., mine, exactly) this is a long time coming. Ke Huy Quan gave one of the most delightful kid performances in all of cinema, that of Short Round in Indiana Jones And The Temple of Doom, then followed it up with the role of Data in The Goonies. Since then, he’s been off-screen, working as a stunt choreographer. (A recent, terrific profile in Vulture has more on his story.)
The minute Quan appears in this movie, you can’t mistake his face, even after all these decades. And then when he opens his mouth, that voice! What’s more, he’s playing a lovable doofus who puts googly eyes on things, because the only thing better than googly eyes are the people who put them up around a laundromat when no one is looking. And the movie-mad Daniels are no fools: He gets to say “very funny” more than once.
He also demolishes a security force with a fanny pack weighed down with fish tank gravel, something you’ll see in cosplay form at every comic book convention until the end of time. Those who tend to hoot and/or holler during movies will know their cue.
There’s a tremendous amount of action in Everything Everywhere, much of it preposterous (including dueling butt plugs). Yet even those who don’t care for noise have to respect the flashy production design, costumes, shifting film stocks and aspect ration, and explosions of rapid-fire editing that simply could not exist prior to the use of computers. Razor blades and tape could not get this thin back in the day. This is a movie of its moment.
It’s important to add, however, that this madness does serve a purpose. The anarchy is meant to represent what we all feel: that we’re losing grip, that something’s not right, and the gravity of everything is pulling us into darkness, with only kindness able to keep it at bay. If what we were watching were calm, it would not work. Just because the Daniels represent this black hole as an overtaxed bagel doesn’t make its threat any less true. It all makes sense when you see it. And it’s fantastic.