Review: ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’ is an Absurd, yet Stirring Thrill Ride
In recent years, the concept of the multiverse has become a fascination in entertainment. From “Rick and Morty” following characters as they hop through and dispose of various alternate realities to the use of the multiverse in “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” where alternative worlds provide a fun twist for fans of the franchise, both TV ratings and box office results show clear approval for this previously fringe sci-fi topic.
However, the multiverse is not always a good plot device. The existence of infinite realities can remove the stakes from a film’s events — if harsh consequences arise, the film can return to the protagonist in an alternate universe, nullifying any unfavorable decisions. “Everything Everywhere All at Once” takes aim at this issue while also cleverly finding comedic ways to stretch its premise, offering viewers a philosophical and emotional family drama.
If that premise sounds like a lot, that’s because it is. Unsurprisingly, the movie entitled “Everything Everywhere All at Once” does a lot of things and visits a lot of places in its two-and-a-half-hour runtime. The film begins by establishing the Wang family, who the story centers around, as a group of complex characters. Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) serves as the matriarch of the family and the story’s protagonist, and between an ongoing audit of her laundromat and her aging father’s arrival in the United States, it is clear that she will soon be at her limit.
This stress comes to a head as Evelyn, her father, and her husband, Waymond Wang (Ke Huy Quan), meet with the IRS regarding the audit. Evelyn is suddenly transported to an alternate universe, where another version of her husband explains that she is the only version of herself in the multiverse with the ability to stop an evil force from overtaking more universes. The encounter launches a chain of events in which Evelyn must connect with alternate realities to stop the force — though as the film progresses, she struggles with losing touch with her original reality.
The multiverse launches a relatively straightforward, lighthearted comedy into total mayhem as the realities begin to bleed together and outlandish situations are created. The film combines insane martial arts scenes in mundane locations such as the IRS office building and a movie theater with a parallel universe where people have hot dogs for fingers — a reference to “2001: A Space Odyssey” — before briskly moving on to the next idea. This ludicrous sense of humor is uncompromising and unrelenting, which makes the film wholly unique, but potentially annoying to some.
As the film progresses, it focuses on the relationships between Evelyn, Waymond, and their daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu). Exploring the other universes leads Evelyn to realize how she may have been better off without these relationships, and conflict arises as these feelings continue to surface. Evelyn must also philosophically confront the lack of meaning that a multiverse implies: why does anything matter if there are infinitely many universes and infinitely many versions of herself?
The film manages to reach a very satisfying conclusion by effectively balancing its lighthearted tone with family drama, which overcomes the multiverse’s aforementioned plot contrivances. The writer-directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan deserve heavy praise for both the script and performances they capture, which elevate an absurdist comedy to something special.
Duality is also present in the visuals themselves. The abrasiveness found within the comedic moments is matched by the visuals, which bring the various universes explored in the narrative to life. Real-world footage, aspect-ratio shifts, and visual allusions all create great visual gags to accompany the script. If you dislike more offbeat or stylized films, the look of the film may be irritating, but the style effortlessly matches the mood of the film. The strong visual literacy also accentuates the drama, as references to other directors’ styles (namely Wong Kar-wai) emphasizes the sadness in certain scenes.
These elements create an entertaining and surprisingly deep experience that I found to be a very fun watch. The film is by no means flawless — both the creativity and the exploration of different universes fades away somewhat in the second half and the drama found within is not wholly groundbreaking — but its strengths certainly outweigh its weaknesses. Its rapid pace makes the film very easy to watch, and its visual and structural creativity will make it a benchmark for all multiverse-related projects to come. You can catch the movie now in theaters, but just be ready for a bizarre, lively ride.
More from The Rice Thresher
With summer right around the corner, many students’ brains will finally have space for things other than organic chemistry or the latest coding problem that needs to be solved. Take this time to read for enjoyment again. The following are a series of summer recommendations perfect for time on a plane, by the pool or just on your couch. All incorporate travel in one way or another, and each has its own adventure that will leave you yearning for more.
Robert Eggers is a filmmaker whose work has been defined by its small scale and intensive focus on characters. His prior films, “The Witch” and “The Lighthouse,” both feature a small cast and embrace environmental horror as terrifying events slowly pull the main ensemble apart. His reputation for his smaller scale and focus is partly why “The Northman” was so interesting upon its announcement — “The Northman” blows up Egger’s storytelling onto a massive scale. The locations, number of characters, and time period all dwarf his prior films. For the most part, Eggers steps up to the plate, succeeding in his ambition. “The Northman” will be available to watch in theaters April 22.