The directing duo of Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, collectively known as Daniels, have created a brand of cinema flavored with creative ingenuity blended with the bizarre and outlandish that have seen them mystify viewers with flatulent corpses and dark humor with films like 2016’s Swiss Army Man and 2019’s The Death of Dick Long.
Their third feature together, Everything Everywhere All At Once, takes their obsession with the absurd to new heights cinematically as the pair forge a strange, genre-bending tale that mixes Hong Kong martial arts with sci-fi hijinks, comic book universe hopping with family drama in a compelling, original film unlike anything audiences will see in 2022.
Michelle Yeoh of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Crazy Rich Asians fame stars as Evelyn, a down on her luck Chinese immigrant whose business is on the verge of collapse and her marriage on the brink of divorce. While heading to an IRS audit meeting, Evelyn is confronted by an alternate version of her husband, Waymond, who believes she is the only person capable of stopping the nefarious Jobu Tupaki from collapsing every possible universe.
While the film could probably have been successful simply based on the Daniels’ creativity, Yeoh brings All At Once to the next level with a nuanced performance that is often frantic, sometimes melancholic, and ever transformative. She becomes a terrific stand-in for the audience as the film progresses with Yeoh’s initial confusion to the world Evelyn is forced into mirroring the bewilderment of viewers.
As Evelyn grows in confidence and learns skills from alternate reality versions of herself, Yeoh is able to showcase her martial arts prowess and then immediately fall back into a stupor that is practical and convincing to Evelyn’s increasingly outlandish plight and as Evelyn comes to accept the ridiculousness of her situation, Yeoh makes it easier for audiences to suspend their disbelief as well and enjoy the ride.
Yeoh is aided by a wonderful ensemble cast who must make even wider transformations between their character’s normal selves and bizarre variations.
Ke Huy Quan returns to acting for his first role in two decades and steals nearly every scene he’s in as Evelyn’s sheepish, yet adorable husband Waymond. No matter what version of Waymond is in the moment – and all versions are incredible – Quan gives his whole heart to Waymond in a way that just leaps off the screen.
Newcomer Stephanie Hsu is a revelation as the couple’s daughter Joy, a complicated blend of both her parents that allows Hsu to be more eccentric with her alternate versions and Jamie Lee Curtis is almost unrecognizable in a hilarious supporting turn as the IRS agent assigned to Evelyn’s audit.
All At Once is even more spectacular in terms of its visual effects, which was developed by a team of only five to create over 500 different shots in the film. Daniels use both practical and computer-generated effects to showcase Evelyn’s bridge between the versions of herself, dubbed “verse jumping” in the movie, and the look of Yeoh rapidly falling backwards is a constant blur of motion and imagery that keeps viewers at the edge of their seats.
The film also moves at an intensely rapid pace thanks to distinct and swift editing by Paul Rogers that makes the most of the dynamic action sequences that perfectly blend martial arts with the strange science fiction elements of the plot.
Daniels also create a fully realized, wholly immersive world with some of the best production design and costuming that will probably be featured in all of 2022. The depth to which the filmmakers transform a simple office building into a plethora of avenues for creativity cinematically is astonishing and the costume work, especially on Curtis’s Deirdre and also Jobu Topaki showcase the avantgarde uniqueness and originality unmatched in this era.
Because All At Once is so outside the box – there’s literally worlds with hot dog hands and pinatas – it’s unclear how a film released in the first half of the year will stay in the conversation long enough to earn the awards season acclaim it deserves, but Daniels’ film definitely deserves to stand alongside The Batman as the two features to release before July that need to be remembered by voters months from now.
Though it will be a fun experience at home for audiences who can’t find it close to them, there’s no doubt that the visual thrill ride of Everything Everywhere All At Once deserves a trip to the cinema to see the Daniels’ vision on the biggest screen possible and this strange, yet heartfelt will no doubt be a top film of the year.