The directorial duo known as the Daniels (Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinert) made their debut with ‘farting corpse movie’ Swiss Army Man in 2016, and have joined forces again for another surrealist comedy, this time with an ambitious sci-fi twist. Everything Everywhere All at Once is a multiverse action film that explores the intimate relationships between Chinese-American laundromat owner Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh), her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), and Joy (Stephanie Hsu), their angsty teenage daughter. During a visit to a bleak, panel-lit IRS office to discuss their struggling family business with steely faced auditor Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis), they’re thrust into a mysterious alternate universe that splits their perception of reality, thus kickstarting an adventure where they must save the world from ultimate destruction.
Divided into three chapters outlined in the film’s title, there is an abundance of ideas and imagination thrown into this narrative. Kwan and Scheinert are self-proclaimed ‘maximalist’ filmmakers, and this high-concept gives them carte blanche to express themselves creatively, peppering their plot with nerd-culture nods and references. We witness their martial arts influences in the meticulously choreographed, wince-inducing fight scenes, and it’s clear that the writers have had a great time fine-tuning the clever details of the script.
However, there’s a fine line between their self-awareness and self-indulgence, and the second half sags where it should soar. Of course, the far-fetched foundations serve as a storytelling metaphor for its weighty themes of nihilism and existential despair, but the emotion feels heavy-handed, unearned, and a little too late in the game amongst all the hotdog fingers and butt plugs. There’s a painfully prolonged slow-mo sequence where an everything bagel blackhole doomsday device threatens to pull everything in existence into its orbit, and its attempted profundity is undercut by its own absurdity.
Everything Everywhere All at Once is full of fun and presents an inventive take on its central premise. Michelle Yeoh shines in her deserved leading role, her gravitas bringing warmth, humanity, and humour to a role that could easily have been swallowed up by the insanity of the story. Despite its flaws, it remains a refreshing, entertaining antidote to the more mainstream efforts of this ilk, and the Daniels are an absolute credit to original, independent filmmaking.