‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’: Multiverse, everything bagel, martial arts and Michelle Yeoh

March 29, 2022, 10:24 p.m.

Spoiler warning: this review contains mild spoilers for “Everything Everywhere All At Once.”

On March 20, 2022, I arrived at the Castro Theater’s premiere of “Everything Everywhere All at Once” with an empty stomach to join a seemingly endless queue. Hundreds of enthusiastic movie-goers snaked around the block in the chilly San Francisco weather. Like many, I was returning to the theater for the first time since the pandemic began, and “Everything Everywhere All At Once” was definitely the kind of film that desperately demanded to be viewed collectively.

“Everything Everywhere All at Once,” directed and written by DANIELS (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert), is frankly one of the best movies I have ever watched. The film cleverly uses humor to address the (if you will) unprecedented times we live in: it speaks to the nihilism of our generation and the necessity of fiercely relentless hope as a means of self-preservation. The film offers insights into how to keep going in the face of uncertainty. It also provides much-needed representation of a grounded Chinese American household in Hollywood — well, as grounded as a movie about the infinite multiverse and martial arts fights involving dildos can be. It’s about breaking away from intergenerational pressures and, above everything, choosing to be kind when all seems to be outside of your control.

The film’s fast-paced edits vividly introduce us to the characters. The first shot cleverly positions the Wang Family — Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh), Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) and Joy (Stephanie Hsu) — in a circular mirror in the middle of a bookcase. As the camera zooms into the mirror, we see sweet familial memories flicker, all the scenes basked in the purple light of nostalgia. Waymond adjusts the mirror, and we are transported to Evelyn on a table opposite the bookshelf, trapped by countless piles of receipts as she prepares to meet her tax accountant in a final effort to save the family laundromat.

By the time the opening montage concludes, the family’s dynamics are laid bare: Evelyn is a middle-aged, first-generation, Chinese American woman who is challenged with the impossible task of navigating an IRS audit of her small laundromat. Evelyn also finds herself stretched thin under the pressure from her demanding father (James Hong), who recently relocated from mainland China and whom Evelyn is conditioned to please. Today is the Lunar New Year, and the celebration has to be perfect and traditional.

Evelyn struggles to reconcile her background, disappointments and motherhood as she navigates raising her Americanized lesbian daughter Joy, who seems to drift further and further away from Evelyn with her tattoos, girlfriend Becky (Tallie Medel) and self-destructive teenage angst. Amid this stressful day, however, Waymond remains a carefree, goofy dad who enjoys the mundanity of operating the laundromat — sometimes to a fault. What Evelyn doesn’t know is that after today, Waymond is planning to file for divorce. These vibrant characters generate a family dynamic that feels grounded and relatable.

The call to adventure comes when it all feels a little too much at the tax department and Evelyn is contacted by Alpha Waymond. This Morpheus-esque version of Waymond from one of the infinite multiverses leads her to embark on a journey to save the world from the enigmatic, no-fucks-given-yet spicy supervillain Jobu Tapaki.

The film has fun with its outlandish multiverse premise: Evelyn enters a world in which everyone has hot dogs for fingers, an everything bagel contains everything and everyone exists as a consciousness embedded within a rock. The film is a rollercoaster of emotions; it feels so out-of-this-world and like the wildest dreams of two genius freaks combined into one.

The film also includes impressive and hilarious martial arts sequences featuring legends of the genre. Yeoh has had a long career in martial arts movies since the 1980s, including her role in the Oscar-nominated 2000 film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” Quan was the stunt choreographer for the “X-Men” movies and the assistant of renowned Hong Kong fight choreographer Corey Yuen for “The One.” Further reminiscent of recent comic book blockbusters, the film dresses its characters in incredibly inventive and absurd costumes that are knowingly self-serious.

This sentiment is certainly a result of the writer-director duo’s approach to the film. “You don’t write something you already know how to make,” Kwan said. “You write what you want to become.”

Unlike other cinematic multiverses, this film focuses primarily on the idea of family. Even when everything is happening everywhere, all at once, families can still find each other. “Of all the places I could be, I just want to be here with you,” Evelyn says in the trailer.

Beneath the craziness of it all, DANIELS successfully depicts a multi-faceted portrait of a Chinese American household. The scene when Evelyn walks up to Joy to apologize but is unable to do so is perhaps my favorite moment in the film. Instead, Evelyn tells Joy to eat healthier because she looks as though she gained some weight. I see my own tenuous, bittersweet relationship with my mom projected onto the screen — one that persists even when words fail. The film portrays love as a form of attention we give each other, which perhaps is especially true in an Asian household. The decision to include a natural switch between Cantonese and Mandarin when Evelyn talks to her husband and her father also denotes the cultural nuances within the monolithic view of a Chinese American family.

In the Q&A following the premiere, Yeoh revealed that she felt as if “her career was leading up to this film.” With a rich story and well-rounded characters, the film centers on the often-overlooked Chinese-American middle-aged lady and does so in a way that feels universal and hopeful. 

“Everything Everywhere All at Once” is a film about the multiverse, forces of good versus evil and, at the heart of it, finding yourself and your people despite it all. I urge you to watch this film in theaters, to really experience how the film can bring us all together and to inspire us to be better, even when we feel too worn out by our realities.

Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective opinions, thoughts and critiques.

Bhumikorn Kongtaveelert '25 is the culture desk editor for the Arts & Life section and the Energy and Environment Beat Reporter for the News section. Contact The Daily’s Arts & Life section at arts ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.

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