A 420 special guest review by: Jeff Ching
As the credits rolled for Everything Everywhere All At Once, I sat there with many things going through my mind.
I felt joy and exhilaration at what I had just experienced. I don’t remember the last time I had *this* much fun at a theatre. I didn’t think a movie like this could exist, let alone play in theatres everywhere. Was this one of the best movies I’d ever seen? Maybe. I expected a trippy movie, but what I got instead was a roller coaster ride on acid that was full of laughs, crocodile tears, and some contemplation about my own life. Then I remembered that I have to write a review for Wylie Writes, my very first one, so if this sucks…I probably won’t be asked to come back as a guest critic. That’s when I thought to myself, “What the hell did I get myself into?” There is soooooooo much to unpack about this movie. I was told not to use profanity in my reviews…then I was given Everything Everywhere All At Once. If any movie requires lots of expletive adjectives to fully express just the epic awesomeness of an experience, this is it. I didn’t mean to go all Charlie Kaufman and write myself into this review, so let’s move on.
Everything Everywhere All At Once is written and directed by Daniels (Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert). It wouldn’t surprise me if there is a sentiment that Kwan and Scheinert absolutely detest hearing and that is, “There are no original ideas anymore. Everything’s been done.” With this movie, the duo didn’t just aim to deliver a few things that audiences have never seen before, they aimed to deliver 420 of them. Calling the filmmakers outside-the-box thinkers is the ultimate understatement; they are trillions of light years outside the figurative box…in another dimension…on DMT.
The movie’s two greatest elements are its boundless imagination and its rebellious attitude; to hell with rule books. Absolutely anything goes. Daniels don’t just embrace the absurd and ridiculous, they go a full 11/10 with it. I have so much respect for the sheer audacity of these filmmakers. A smart, mind-bending plot and outlandishly preposterous set pieces are not mutually exclusive in the world of Daniels. If you have the chance to world build your own fictional universe, why not go absolutely bonkers with the rules and plot points? It seems like they’re having a blast putting this story together and that’s the way it should be. I won’t spoil it, but the method in how the characters verse jump from parallel universe to parallel universe…only the directors of Swiss Army Man would think up something like this. I have so much respect for films that take risk after risk after risk. Kwan and Scheinert are swinging wildly for the fences, yet 95% of what they’re hitting are home runs.
This movie should not have worked. If this screenplay was sent to a script coach, I’m sure the duo would be told that this script is way too ambitious; tone it down, simplify and focus on one key theme. Trying to make a movie about everything that delivers just about everything…that would be insane! You would expect a script like this to turn into a convoluted mess, but yet everything connects beautifully rather than feeling disjointed. Talk about genre-bending; this is an action, comedy, science-fiction, family drama, and yet you never feel tonal whiplash when it transitions from genre to genre. Okay, so they did miss horror. Come on, Daniels! You could have put a bit of horror in there too.
If I can focus on one genre in the movie, there is so much range in the comedy; from authentically funny observations of Chinese culture, to witty one liners, to physical comedy, to dark comedy, to clever meta humour, to the wickedly low-brow humour where it feels like the South Park writers took over.
I’ve already gone on a full page, and I’ve barely scratched the surface of this movie, or its themes. I haven’t even had the chance to talk about the great performances by Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, and Stephanie Hsu who all take on the challenge of having to play many different parallel dimension versions of themselves, veering from some wild physical comedy to cool martial arts fighting to tear jerking family drama that feels authentic, subdued and not the least bit emotionally manipulative. I think all three of them deserve Oscar nominations. Michelle Yeoh has gotten the most compliments, but when it comes to tugging at our heart strings, Stephanie Hsu was every bit as good, playing the daughter who feels so distant from her mother.
I haven’t even summarized the plot yet – I don’t feel like it. You can “IMDB” the plot. Even better, just go into the movie knowing absolutely nothing about it. Especially if you think that Marvel’s multiverse movies have been “meh”. Everything Everywhere All At Once really puts Marvel to shame, pulling off something far more creative, with only a fraction of their budget. Admittedly, Marvel did come close with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse which was one of my favourite moviegoing experiences, but I think Everything Everywhere All At Once simply accomplishes more.
I’ve heard many people call this one of the best movies they’ve ever seen. I’m not totally sure I’m on board with that, but I’m not exactly against that either. Maybe it’ll take another viewing to make up my mind; there’s no way I’m only seeing this once in theatres. It’s definitely at the top of my list of 2022, tied with the criminally underrated Strawberry Mansion, which is maybe the trippiest, most surreal, imaginative movie about dreams. Hey, what a double bill this would be!
Bottom line is, watch Daniels’ Everything Everywhere All At Once in a theatre. A movie like this probably won’t come around until the next movie by these filmmakers. And, who knows how long that will take? I also hope this movie inspires filmmakers out there to take more risks and let their imaginations run wild. We can really use more movies like this. While I’m not expecting this to become a huge money maker, I think this will be regarded as a classic years from now and hopefully studied and dissected in film academia. This will be the screening that film students would be most excited to attend. Screw Citizen Kane.
Read more of Jeff Ching’s thoughts on film at The Ching of Comedy’s blog.