MANILA, PHILIPPINES — With its sweep of wins across this awards season, Everything Everywhere All at Once has proven that it is a mind-bending, genre-defying film that defies easy classification. Directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, collectively known as The Daniels, the film follows an unlikely hero as she navigates multiple dimensions and parallel universes in a quest to save the world from an ancient evil.
With a bold visual style, a captivating storyline, and an all-star cast, Everything Everywhere All at Once is a cinematic tour de force that will leave audiences on the edge of their seats. In this review, film buff Jayson Laniba goes in-depth into what makes this film such a unique and unforgettable viewing experience.
We are naturally stupid people. I mean, there was a time that we humans did believe that the Earth is flat and that it’s the center of the solar system. We even condemned people who said otherwise. We always pretend we know how the entire world works but in reality, we are all just like everybody else – clueless, confused, and scared. Everything that happens in our daily lives is a constant reminder that we are nothing but a tiny particle on a planet that’s also just a tiny dot in a universe that’s part of an even much larger universe. We are all but a statistical inevitability. We’re nothing special. The Daniels say it’s alright.
Enter Michelle Yeoh as Evelyn Wang, a Chinese-American immigrant who must connect with versions of herself from other parallel universes to stop a powerful evil being from destroying the rest of the multiverse. That’s the main selling point of this absurdist science fiction comedy from directing duo Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, a film tackling the dynamics of modern Asian families, generational trauma, traditionalism, and the fact that nothing really matters in this world and that we are all going to die soon. In short, the perfect family therapy.
In the film, Evelyn must save the multiverse from an omnicidal being named Jobu Tupaki, a powerful being that puts Thanos of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to shame with her unequaled nihilism, while our main hero prepares for her demanding father’s party, dealing with an IRS agent (Jamie Lee Curtis) whom she thinks is just power tripping on her because she’s Chinese, and facing her very own husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) who wants the two of them to get divorced. As a cherry on top, she still can’t accept the fact that her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) is a lesbian and dating a non-Chinese girlfriend. Evelyn gets her skills and abilities by temporarily linking her consciousness to another version of herself from other universes, accessing all their memories, their skills, even their emotions – and not with the help of an iron suit or a mythical hammer. With all of this stuff that she has to juggle on her own, she could probably beat the crap out of the Avengers, who had to have a two-part film to save a single universe.
At first glance, this film may look like it’s a stubborn, and aimless mess with all of that multiverse mumbo jumbo. Upon closer inspection, this turns out to be one of 2022’s most incredible films. Michelle Yeoh delivers an Oscar-worthy turn as Evelyn, perfectly complemented by the star-making turn of Stephanie Hsu as her daughter Joy (I would have preferred her to get that Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, to be honest). Ke Huy Quan also shines here with his award-winning portrayal of Waymond, who carries much of the weight of the film’s first act with his multiverse jumping performance. Aside from the strong performances, another thing that blew me away after rewatching this is the editing, courtesy of Paul Rogers, which I only got to pay closer attention to now (it earned him the Oscar for Best Film Editing). It’s also one of the most visually stunning films I’ve seen from 2022 – heck, it looked so much better than all the other big-budget flicks I’ve seen recently (to think that its VFX was done by only a small team of five artists). Those Oscars are very much well deserved, and knowing that it already surpassed The Lord of The Rings: The Return of the King as the most awarded film of all time makes my heart flutter a bit.
Penned and directed by Daniels, the award-winning film effectively mixes classic martial arts flicks with sci-fi, fantasy, and comedy, topped with a generous dose of nihilism and absurdity. It slaps us with the truth that we are nothing but a tiny dot in a much bigger bubble that is also floating in a cosmic foam of existence. Its pessimistic attitude makes it even more relatable to me now after rewatching and re-assessing it (I thought it was just an okay movie when I first watched it a year ago and found it to be overrated initially).
It’s a story of our own what-ifs and could-have-beens. Our regrets and aspirations. Our dreams and failures. At some point, Evelyn gets to have a glimpse of a version of her life where she’s become an acclaimed and highly successful martial arts actress. “What if I want to go back?” she asks. “What if I want to go back to the other universe?” I mean, I’d be asking the same thing, too. Can you imagine finding out that somewhere out there, there’s a version of us living a perfect life? The life that we’ve always dreamed of. The one where we are actually happy. It’s equally uplifting yet depressing at the same time, and that’s the magic of Daniels’ script, which shares the same tone as with the directing duo’s previous work, the masterpiece that was “Swiss Army Man” which starred Daniel Radcliffe as a farting corpse. So it is no surprise that their latest film got them their well-deserved Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and Best Director.
Surprisingly, after rewatching this, I can’t help but see Stephanie Hsu’s Joy Wang and Jobu Tupaki as some symbolism for change at some point. As we all know, Evelyn is a traditionalist who is still desperate to please her own demanding father, played by James Hong. She repeatedly tells Joy that she is okay with her daughter dating another woman, but in reality, is still ashamed of it deep inside her, and even blames Jobu Tupaki as the reason why her child became distant to her. “It’s you. You’re the reason my daughter doesn’t call anymore. Why she dropped out of college and gets tattoos? You are why she thinks she’s gay!” she cries at Jobu after meeting her face-to-face for the first time. Aren’t we all like Evelyn, resistant to change? Afraid of growing old? Anxious about what’s to come in the future? That’s why many of us like looking back to the past. “You’ve been feeling it too, haven’t you?” Waymond’s alternate version asks Evelyn in the film. “Something is off. Your clothes never wear as well the next day. Your hair never falls in quite the same way. Even your coffee tastes wrong… And you stay up at night wondering yourself, how can we get back?” The Alphaverse’s mission is to take them back to how it’s supposed to be, similar to how we usually prefer things to be like how they were before, at least for me.
We’re so scared of the things we don’t know. We’re so afraid that we won’t be able to achieve something in our lifespans. We’re so afraid to take some risks. But like what Jobu tells us, nothing really matters. Because “if nothing matters, then all the pain and guilt you feel for making nothing of your life… it goes away.” The film wants us to let go of the idea that you need to leave a mark in this world or that you have to accomplish something because it’s all for nothing. We’re all going to die soon. No sequels. No spin-offs. What we have are just a lifetime of fractured moments that make sense.
The best thing we can do is to cherish all those tiny specks of time that actually make sense. Forget about the other parallel versions of yourself. Stop living in your what-ifs, could-have-beens, and regrets. This right here, this universe, this time, this moment – this is the one that truly matters. Make the most out of it, because you only got one shot at this life. Cue in Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.
“Any way the wind blows…”
ABOUT THE WRITER
Jayson A. Laniba is a film buff with more than eight years experience of writing about movies. He has written reviews for online publications such as LionhearTV, Grimoire of Horror, and the Society of Filipino Film Reviewers (SFFR). Now, he spends most of his time blabbering about local cinema on his Instagram page, @FilmCircleReject.