Directed by: Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert || Produced by: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo, Mike Larocca, Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert, Jonathan Wang, Michelle Yeoh
Screenplay by: Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert || Starring: Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, Jenny Slate, Harry Shum Jr., James Hong, Jamie Lee Curtis
Music by: Son Lux, Mitski, David Byrne, Andre 3000 || Cinematography: Larkin Seiple || Edited by: Paul Rogers || Country: United States || Language: English, Mandarin, Cantonese
Running Time: 140 minutes
Every now and then, a film releases that everyone loves but you; just as often (i.e. rarely, for most people), you’ll connect with a movie that is almost universally panned by critics and audiences, and each time you’ll feel alone but your interpretations no less valid. That’s how I would describe my reaction to Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s (also known as “The Daniels”) absurdist comedy-drama/fantasy-action movie and Michelle Yeoh-vehicle, Everything, Everywhere, All at Once (henceforth, EEAO), now the highest grossing movie in production company A24‘s history. I tend to enjoy many of A24’s higher profile hits (e.g. Enemy , A Most Violent Year , Room , The Witch , Green Room , Moonlight , The Blackcoat’s Daughter , A Ghost Story , Good Time , Hereditary , The Hole in the Ground , Uncut Gems ), but also seem less in love with the company (e.g. Under the Skin , Rover , Ex Machina , The Lobster , It Comes at Night ) than most cinephiles.
Why am I underwhelmed by A24’s latest, one of the “craziest, ballsiest, weirdest” genre-blenders in recent memory? Much of it has to do with my general distaste for absurdist humor and The Daniels’ genre-blending despite my occasional affection for those attributes on film (e.g. Edgar Wright’s Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy [2004, 2007, 2013] and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World ; John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China ); while EEAO blends disparate genres better than the average 1990s-2000s Bollywood melodrama, (1) that’s a low bar to pass and (2) Kwan and Scheinert’s command of these genres is inconsistent at best against the backdrop of their chaotic, nonsensical script. As much as I enjoyed the characters and the thematic heart of the story — learning to appreciate your lot in life, overcoming interpersonal conflicts with empathy, helping your family members overcome depression and even suicidality — those likable personalities and worthwhile messages are drowned under a tidal wave of nonstop exposition, repetitive action sequences, meaningless diegetic minutiae, and the same two jokes over and over.
What exactly is the story of EEAO? For starters, the premise concerns the relatable, down-on-their luck family life of Yeoh and husband Ke Huy Quan (Short Round from The Temple of Doom !), daughter Stephanie Hsu, and estranged father James Hong; their laundromat business is struggling and under audit by the Internal Revenue Service, Hsu is emotionally distant, depressed, and struggling with getting her family to accept her open homosexuality, Hong, visiting from China, more or less disowned Yeoh when she ran off with Quan years ago, and Quan contemplates divorce now that their life hasn’t turned out the way any of them wanted.
This sweet, family-friendly opening establishes sympathy for the principal cast, save for Hsu, whose performance I found dull and unlikable, and coupled with the mature, touching finale, made me wish the film had jettisoned the entire fantastical “multiverse” twist from which EEAO draws its title. Long story short, doppelgangers of our main cast from various parallel universes invade our main characters’ world in an attempt to stop an evil, apocalyptic version of Hsu’s character from unraveling the total fabric of existence in some sort of quasi-black hole of multidimensional space-time. This hairbrained, incoherent narrative is described through endless verbal exposition in thick, accented English that is difficult to follow and nearly impossible to understand. More disappointing are the nonstop action sequences, which are well choreographed and fun to start, but wear out their welcome by the sixth or seven fight. Making matters worse are the ridiculous, “wacky” costumes that adorn these fight sequences seemingly at random, as do the poorly explained plot-devices whereby characters harness the metaphysical abilities of different versions of themselves from other universes — let me catch my breath, here — through bizarre physical comedy stunts like paper-cutting their knuckles, chewing chapstick, and sticking trophies up their butts. While funny in the moment during the first act or so, these carnival barker jokes are one-dimensional (pun intended) and grow tiresome well before the two-hour mark.
Put another way, I liked the overall message of Everything, Everywhere, All at Once, just not the execution of it. The effective start and finish to Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinhert’s narrative revealed to me the powerful thematic core to this movie whose bonkers style I found distracted from, rather than accentuated that core. As much as I love stylish cinematography and genre flourishes to otherwise mundane, everyday stories, I argue this case of genre-blending overload and nonstop absurdism cheapens the film’s relatable human heart. I’m happy most others, professional critics and otherwise, enjoyed the hell out of Everything, Everywhere, All at Once, but the experience did not work for me, and I argue for good reason.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Too much superfluous action and not enough undivided attention on the central themes that define its characters, Everything, Everywhere, All at Once feels as verbose and overstuffed as its title. The Daniels glorify their simple, straightforward narrative with enough filler to balloon this 90-minute feelgood family romp to nearly two and a half hours.
— However… its principal cast — again, minus Stephanie Hsu — are well acted and endearing, while the film begins and ends well.
—> NOT RECOMMENDED
? Why didn’t Yeoh stay in her Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)-esque kung fu persona throughout the whole movie?