It was practically unfathomable a year ago that a quirky blend of science fiction, drama and martial arts would be remember by more than a few ardent fans elevating it to cult status.
But 366 days after its debut at the 2022 South by Southwest Film Festival, Everything Everywhere All At Once moved beyond critical and cinephile acclaim by winning seven of its 11 Academy Award nominations Sunday evening including Best Picture.
While its success certainly signals an ongoing shift in what the Academy considers worthy of its top prizes, All At Once practically sweeping is a striking endorsement in genre filmmaking and original storytelling that should boost the profiles of future projects and promote filmmakers taking risks for the sake of unique creativity.
All At Once probably isn’t a film that reaches across the spectrum of moviegoers like Top Gun: Maverick or a Steven Spielberg movie might be, but those just stumbling onto this remarkable gem should make every effort to find a way to see it even if it’s too strange or outlandish for more conservative cinephiles.
Long overdue Best Actress winner Michelle Yeoh 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.
Although the film could probably have been successful simply based on the creativity of writing/directing duo Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, collectively known as Daniels, 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.
If there’s only one reason to see All At Once, it’s for the heartfelt, magnetic performance from Best Supporting Actor winner Ke Huy Quan, who returned 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.
Another veteran performer – Jamie Lee Curtis – finally got her laurels with a Best Supporting Actress win with an almost unrecognizable 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, who won for best editing, that makes the most of the dynamic action sequences that perfectly blend martial arts with the strange science fiction elements of the plot.
The singular vision of All At Once is so outside the box – there’s literally worlds with hot dog hands and pinatas – that rewarding Daniels with both Best Direction and Best Original Screenplay is something that speaks to the film’s technical merits and craft of storytelling, but also to the deep emotional core that resonates from the opening moments through the final credits.
The Academy’s shift in direction to celebrate the less conventional parts of cinema culminated in heralding in a new era of creative, vibrant and original storytelling.
In 2022, there simply isn’t a better example of independent artistry and breaking the mold of what movies could be than Everything Everywhere All At Once, a more than worthy Best Picture winner and something that cinephiles would do well to watch (or re-watch) very soon.