You probably know Evelyn Wang. You may even be Evelyn Wang. Along with her husband Waymond, Evelyn operates a laundromat and spends her days serving customers, caring for her elderly father, and failing to connect with her adult daughter Joy. Evelyn’s life has been reduced to an unsatisfying series of functions, which she dutifully performs, despite the sinking feeling that something is wrong.
Directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, who collectively go by the name Daniels, Everything Everywhere All at Once is a mind-bending absurdist film about the multiverse and a reality-sucking black hole of a bagel. But it is also imminently relatable, telling the familiar story of a woman burdened by the weight of what she could have been.
Played by Hong Kong legend Michelle Yeoh, Evelyn sees her life at a dead end. Years ago, she and Waymond (Ke Huy Quan, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Goonies) left China for America, earning the disapproval of her father (James Hong). Flash-forward to several decades later, where she and Waymond have only the frayed ends of a marriage, despite the latter’s incessant optimism. Tension builds when her father comes to live with them in his old age and her inability to accept her daughter Joy’s (Stephanie Hsu) sexual orientation.
From that mundane premise, the Daniels launch a mind-bending multiverse adventure. Recruited by an alternate reality Waymond, Evelyn finds herself pitted against Jobu Tupaki, a trans-reality figure who threatens to destroy the multiverse. By performing an absurd act such as chirping like a bird or Evelyn can “verse-jump,” allowing her to meld with alternate reality versions of herself, gaining abilities such as kung fu or foot dexterity. What follows is a mind-bending battle of ever-changing status quos. Pursued by the minions of Jobu Topaki, including a gleefully frumpy Jamie Lee Curtis, Evelyn and Waymond jump through alternate selves, including worlds that mirror Yeoh’s real life and, more surprisingly, the plot of the Pixar movie Ratatouille.
Ever the visual stylists, Daniels never miss an opportunity to twist the camera around the space or incorporate unlikely objects into fight sequences. There’s more than a little of Jackie Chan in sequences such as an early battle in which Waymond fends off security guards with his fanny pack, and the ideas only get weirder from there.
And yet, for all of its boundless imagination, Daniels refuses to lose their audience. Smart visual and sound cues clue the audience into reality changes, most effectively when Evelyn hits a convergence point. With the sound of fracturing glass, the screen appears to crack, splitting Evelyn into two blurry halves. Each half represents a new reality, showing Evelyn existing simultaneously in two worlds. Later in the movie, strong edits relate coherence between Evelyns across different realities, allowing Evelyn A to block a punch by borrowing the Hibachi chef moves of Evelyn B, but forcing Evelyn C to feel the effects. Not since The Matrix has a movie explained its rules with such clarity and innovation.
But the biggest surprise is that Everything Everywhere remains deeply intimate, even as it indulges in maximalist glee. Fundamentally, the movie operates as a family drama, with Evelyn recovering the love she feels for her father, husband, and daughter. The reliably amazing Yeoh once again shows herself to be one of the world’s greatest screen actors, whether she’s wielding sex toys in a kung fu showdown or trying to conceal her contempt for an IRS functionary. But the real revelations here are Quan and Hsu. The former is best known to people my age as playing lovable but highly stereotyped characters Short Round and Data in the 80s. Here, he excels at radiating warmth and kindness, even when playing a button-downed lost lover in the model of Tony Leung in In the Mood for Love. A complete newcomer to me, Hsu transcends the bratty daughter trope to imbue her performance with genuine emotion, a longing to connect with the mother she seems to despise.
It\’s this longing for connection and deep focus that gives Daniels permission to go as far as their imaginations will take them. No matter how absurd the worlds may be, no matter how arbitrarily silly the scenarios we encounter, it all feels grounded in the emotional reality of people we know in everyday life.