The multiverse is all the rage right now. A concept perhaps most synonymous with comic book storytelling, its limitless possibilities in regards to settings, characters and overall tone has potential to make a compelling centerpiece for an entire film. In fact, the multiverse has already taken prominence in pop culture, being depicted to great extent in projects such as the animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and the likes of television series such as Rick & Morty and last year’s Loki. However, a recent addition to its legacy stands firm amongst the rest. From the directing duo of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, otherwise collectively known as “Daniels”, Everything Everywhere All At Once from A24 is a visually rich deep-dive into the intricacies of multiple realities, multi-choice outcomes, and the branches in spacetime that connect them all. However, underneath what may be perceived as a cheap marketing ploy to attract viewers, lies a story that presents a thorough, emotional exploration of topics such as nihilism, the human condition and above all, one’s ability to value life itself.
The film’s narrative centers around a disgruntled laundromat worker named Evelyn Wang and her struggling family, who are all under intense pressure due to the IRS auditing their business. Additionally, her unhappy husband Waymond is attempting to file for their divorce, her overbearing father Gong Gong has arrived from China to see her, and their daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) has been trying to get Evelyn to accept her girlfriend Becky (Tailie Medel). However, a fateful meeting with IRS inspector Deirdre Beaubeirdra (Jamie Lee Curtis) culminates in Evelyn’s sudden encounter with a variant of her husband hailing from the “Alphaverse”, home to a military group using “verse-jumping” technology to travel to different timelines. Their ultimate goal is to prevent a god-like being named “Jobu Tupaki” from using a black hole-like device known as the “everything bagel” to potentially destroy the entire multiverse.
Evelyn is given complexity and nuance through an extremely emotional performance by Michelle Yeoh, probably one of the best of her entire career. Her struggles to make ends meet with her increasingly dysfunctional family are beautifully illustrated through her expressions and pained vocal delivery. She is complemented by actor Ke Huy Quan, better remembered as the junior Short Round from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as well as Data from The Goonies. Quan’s portrayal of Evelyn’s emotionally conflicted, yet well meaning husband Waymond is heartfelt and sincere, with Quan conveying the innocent naivety and meekness to a man who is at a crossroads with how his family proceeds with their predicament. However, Quan’s performance is particularly special, as he has to balance portraying the awkward Waymond of the film’s main setting, with the contrastingly confident and assertive “Alpha Waymond”, a counterpart from an alternate reality. Quan, alongside other actors (who I won’t spoil), have to portray multiple iterations of themselves spanning different dimensions. The multiverse in this film isn’t just a gimmick, it showcases the multifaceted performances from the cast. “Alpha Waymond” isn’t just a mere counterpart of Waymond with slight, indiscernible character alterations; he’s a fully formed, unique character who stands alone as an additional companion to Evelyn with his own defined arc, while also servicing the emotional growth of his other self in the film’s main plot. Another performance I took note of was that of Stephanie Huy as Evelyn and Waymond’s daughter Joy, who is presented as vulnerable, rebellious and vying for some form of emotional validation from her increasingly distant mother, especially in regards to having her girlfriend and personal needs accepted and acknowledged by both Evelyn and her grandfather Gong Gong, whose traditionalist views prevent him from coming to terms with America’s modern customs such as same-sex marriage, but they also further his disdain towards Evelyn’s decision to marry Waymond. Joy additionally provides a lens into the film’s exploration of philosophical and psychological themes such as nihilism, the value of human life, and inclusivity, which are all serviced by Evelyn’s changes in perspectives through her own unique counterparts in the multiverse throughout the film.
With the multiverse being introduced as the central plot device, there comes a unique approach to direction and overall presentation. As with other multiverse-centric films such as Into the Spider-Verse, the visual presentation of the film and its on-screen portrayal of each alternate reality Evelyn finds herself in deserves much praise. The cinematography from Larkin Seiple (Cop Car, I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore) is extremely layered and brimming with atmosphere. It knows when to revel in the viscerality of the intense fights and standoffs, as it expertly intersplices Evelyn’s ongoing fisticuffs with hijacked henchmen, to her alternate selves going about their daily lives – whether it be a Teppanyaki chef preparing a 5-star dish, or a variant who grew up to be Hollywood royalty through her starring roles in Chinese action flicks. It similarly delivers on the more serene and intimate photography during the quieter moments that allow for character growth and resolution, such as the portions of the film centered around the dysfunctional relationship in Evelyn’s family, as well as their trips to the IRS. The cinematography from Seiple is further complemented by the score from experimental post-rock group Son Lux, whose spacey, hypnotizing compositions contribute to the wonderment and grandiose scale of Evelyn’s journey, which despite taking place exclusively in her reality, is juxtaposed with her actions having indirect consequences for her counterparts in a fashion that adds an element of surprise to the narrative and its action sequences.
On paper, Everything Everywhere All At Once has a premise that sounds convoluted, unwieldy and too ambitious for its own good. However through smart character writing, a unique direction from the Daniels, a visual identity that seamlessly meshes diverse aesthetics, genres and characters, bookended with thoughtful, layered and sincere performances from each of the main leads including a career-defining turn from Michelle Yeoh, this film does deserve the attention it is getting, and I’m personally happy to say that I do not regret buying into the hype.