SXSW Review – Everything Everywhere All at Once
Everything Everywhere All at Once
If you have not watched the trailer for Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022), do so immediately so it can give you a taste of the immense amount of talent and creativity that went into making such a film. On its surface, it looks like someone wrote down their most wild fever dream and made it a reality. The film is open to interpretation on a deeper level, one that even I don’t know if I can describe.
Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert directed and wrote EEAAO as the creative duo Daniels. They got their foot in the door with music videos, but the pair wrote and directed Swiss Army Man (2016) if that gives you any indication of the level of weirdness that EEAAO exceeds. The Russo Brothers also stepped in to help make this film, which makes perfect sense as it delves into subject realms of their previous projects. The fact that this storyline and its visual complexity came out of the mind of Daniels is astounding in and of itself.
The film revolves around Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh), a wife, mother, and laundromat co-owner, who is depressed about the state of her family’s affairs while going through an IRS audit on their business. Alongside her is husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) and visiting father Gong Gong (James Hong); the trip to the IRS turns into the revealing of a complex multiverse filled with alternate Evelyns. Another Waymond possesses this Waymond and attempts to explain that she is the Evelyn that will save the universe from an evil spirit called Jobu Tupaki. Its followers inhabit other people’s bodies in her current dimension and aim to kill Evelyn; first among those are Deirdre (Jaime Lee Curtis), the woman in charge of their IRS audit.
Along with jumping to different dimensions, Evelyn can also bring in talents from other Evelyns in the multiverse by doing a specific task and activating a button on the Bluetooth earpieces they wear. Sometimes the tasks are not done quite right, sending Evelyn to a dimension so outlandish and not helpful, like one where everyone has hot dogs for fingers. The film regularly comes back to this dimension, and every time it is no less hysterical than the first.
Both Evelyn and Waymond immigrated from China when they were younger. There are deeper issues in play here with Evelyn looking back on the choices she made because now she can see what each different choice led an Evelyn to a different way of life. Evelyn is the type of person who wants to do other things with her life but never follows through on those decisions. Their taxes document her failed attempts. With her father Gong Gong in town, his presence brings a harsh retrospective look at her life and her supposed “failures,” never seeming to make her father proud no matter how hard she tries. I will not make an attempt to dissect a Chinese American way of life and what pressures exist separate from my experiences as a Caucasian American of European descent. The film conveys these feelings to its audience well enough and certainly is at the center of it and its climax.
Apart from Evelyn struggling with her husband, father, and their business, there is also their daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu). Observed by Evelyn to be meandering through life with no goal or success, Joy adds insult to injury by bringing Becky (Tallie Medel), her girlfriend, home. Joy does not seem satisfied with what life has dealt her either and holds a grudge against her mother. What evolves as the film progresses is that the relationship between Joy and Evelyn is key to the stabilization of the universe.
Other than the complex storyline, the visuals and special effects have to be the best of the best of 2022, and it’s only March. While I’m sure Daniels was the source of the look of EEAAO, the creative team behind them should be applauded for the effort it took to bring this film to life. I really can’t fault anything in this film for appearing sub-par. The costumes (Shirley Kurata), hair (Anissa Salazar), and makeup (Michelle Chung) alone for Jobu Tupaki are Euphoria-level genius and take villain costumes to another level. Editor Paul Rogers achieves hero-level editing by finagling blips of other dimensions into a seconds-long stream of all other Evelyns that are in existence.
While viewing the film, there are various states of confusion, probably mirroring Evelyn’s experience. Confusing is good if there is a payoff in clarity. While I can’t say that Everything Everywhere All at Once provided ultimate clarity, the fuzziness is more than okay. It’s a trippy watch filled with gotchas and things that will make you laugh your head off (for example: butt plugs). The emotional grittiness in the third act is unexpected and lends kindness to such a wacky yet violent film. We all have wondered “what would have happened if I …,” Evelyn just had the opportunity to experience it, realize her mistakes, and embrace a change of heart.