Everything Everywhere All at Once

This crazy/wonderful film is well described by its title, and brought to mind Run Lola Run, Shakespeare in Love, Dr. Strange, the last Spider-Man film, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, any number of Marx brothers films, and that amusement park ride that spins in circles while roughly throwing its passengers from one side of the seat to the other.

The film brims over with dizzying energy, almost too many themes, and top-notch performances. IIMDB describes the plot as “An aging Chinese immigrant is swept up in an insane adventure, where she alone can save the world by exploring other universes connecting with the lives she could have led.” That’s as good a description as any, but falls quite short of giving you an idea of this film, which can’t be “seen” as much as experienced.

Stephanie Hsu, the incredible Michelle Yeoh, and Ke Huy Quan in Everything Everywhere All at Once

The Run Lola Run comparison is because the film gives alternate life possibilities depending on the choices of the characters. The Dr. Strange and Spider-Man comparisons are because of the extended world/s of the multiverse, which gives writers/directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert the thread on which to hang any number of crazy side trips, some which work and some which don’t.

Thankfully, all of this is held together brilliantly by the legendary Michelle Yeoh (Crazy Rich Asians and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, among many others), who at this point in the year is my pick for Best Actress. That’s where a memory on Shakespeare in Love comes in. I remember reading an article that said that practically any skilled actress playing the part that won an Oscar for Gwyneth Paltrow could have been won by any other skilled young actress, because the part was so juicy. Here, Yeoh is playing so many different parts in so many different places that I lost count, but she maintains the heart of the central character in a way that takes us viewers into all of her experiences and alternate realities without getting lost. Yes, the film makes good use of Yeoh’s reputation as the queen of martial arts films, but her character is much more human than that, and much more relatable. It’s a stunning performance in that it’s not all over the place, but she rather miraculously keeps things grounded as her “realities” move all over the place.

Someone I’d present as a Best Supporting Actress possibility is Stephanie Hsu as the daughter. Hsu, currently being seen as Mei in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” is in her early thirties but gets away with playing a teen here. She puts on a lot of hats, and dresses, and identities—much more than Yeoh—and much of the energy of the film comes from her character and her various expressions. Hsu burns through the film from beginning to end, and if Yeoh provides the solid center, Hsu pulls on the viewers and takes them on a series of wild rides.

A big surprise is the character of the husband, played by Ke Huy Quan (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, The Goonies). It would be a spoiler to describe why this performance is so good, but it’s a delightful surprise.

Then there is Jamie Lee Curtis in a performance you haven’t seen from her and would never have imagined (and quoting Forrest Gump, “that’s all I have to say about that.”

There are crude elements that are thrown in and which tend to cheapen the film here and there, and there is a family conflict between grandfather and granddaughter that is simultaneously something parents might want their children to avoid, and which also is borderline cliché, and at this point, a tired trope. And like a Marx Brothers film, there are a thousand things thrown against the wall, with only the majority sticking and leaving the rest quickly forgotten in the cinematic chaos. On the other hand, since this is a film where everything AND the kitchen sink has been thrown in, it was intriguing to see themes of connection, love, commitment, and the power and worth of kindness—something we rarely see in mainstream films, and which was unexpected in such a wild and crazy film.

It’s safe to say that you have never seen another film quite like this, even though I opened this with film comparisons. But nothing has ever contained this unique combination of elements. Many folks will want to see this more than once, and even that may not be quite enough. Come for the experience, but stay for some of the year’s best performances.

About Mark DuPré

Retired (associate) pastor at a Christian church. Retired film professor at Rochester Institute of Technology. Husband for 45+ years to the lovely and talented Diane. Father to three children and father-in-law to three more amazing people. I continue some ministry duties even though retired from the pastoral position. Right now I'm co-writing a book, working on a documentary (screenwriter and assistant director), and creating a serious musical drama (I am writing the book and lyrics).
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