Early on in Everything Everywhere All at Once, the new feature film from the filmmaking duo collectively known as Daniels, a Chinese-American woman named Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) sits at a cubicle across from a stickler IRS agent named Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis). Deirdre tells Evelyn, who is visibly distracted, “I cannot imagine a conversation more important than this one.” The conversation in question? Evelyn is being audited for incorrectly filing her taxes.
However, there’s a clear disconnect between the two women. Evelyn can’t fully understand all of Deirdre’s English, and Deirdre struggles to make sense of the disorganized receipts and records from the laundromat that Evelyn runs with her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan). But while Deirdre lectures Evelyn about the importance of the current moment, Evelyn experiences a life-altering realization—that her universe is but one in a multiverse where endless Evelyns walk endless paths with endless potential.
What follows from there is meticulous, curated chaos from Daniels, full of stuffed animal hoodies, a fanny pack fight scene, hot dog fingers, and a suspiciously shaped award statue. Without a minute to spare, the reluctant hero Evelyn is propelled forward on a quest to unlock her verse-jumping powers, defeat an evil villain, and restore balance to the multiverse. But as the film progresses, it becomes evident that Evelyn’s problems run much deeper than misfiling her taxes or being hunted by an all-powerful being. Everything Everywhere All At Once is not a movie about how to save the world—it’s about understanding how to be a part of it. Amidst the mayhem, the film stays grounded in its core message about the importance of human connection and cultivating compassion for all beings throughout our confusing, impermanent lives. Evelyn doesn’t arrive at these truths immediately—it takes a few action-packed trips across the multiverse first—but as she learns to cherish even the most mundane moments of time with her family, so does the audience.
Daniels’s approach to the film is pure maximalism, and one of the highlights of their everything-is-more style is the sense that this movie is a celebration of filmmaking itself. There’s a love for film laced throughout; there’s a Ratatouille (2007) joke that evolves into its own subplot about the fate of an animatronic raccoon and his chef friend. There’s also a particularly gorgeous homage to In the Mood for Love (2000), a romantic drama by Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai, that sees Evelyn in a universe where she became a famous martial arts movie star and Waymond became a successful businessman.
However, in this life, the two never married as Evelyn chose to follow her disapproving father’s advice and leave Waymond. Despite their respective financial success, Waymond laments that in another life, he’d have liked to “do laundry and taxes” with her. Everything Everywhere All at Once is both ludicrous and moving in a way that only Daniels can accomplish, and it manages to give the audience a sense of hope by impressing the idea that it’s never too late to change. Instead of dwelling on what could have been, the film encourages audiences to cherish what they do have and work to create the life and relationships they want.
Evelyn fights her way across the multiverse, but it’s only through genuine connection and understanding that any conflict is truly resolved.
As for leading actor Yeoh, in some ways, it feels as though her iconic, impressive career has been building towards this movie. Her performance contains multitudes—she’s funny, fierce, and badass but also allows herself to be vulnerable, pathetic, and lost. Yeoh as Evelyn—and the versions of herself across the multiverse—feels so real that she grounds the movie, making even the most absurd scenes relatable for the audience. A key scene depicts Evelyn facing off against a super-strong Deirdre from another universe, and to defeat her Evelyn must do something completely unexpected. She must tell Deirdre that she loves her—and mean it. In the moment it’s played for laughs but it ultimately takes on a different meaning as the movie progresses. In one universe—a universe where humans evolved to have hot dogs for fingers—Evelyn and Deirdre struggle to fix their fractured romantic relationship. It seems hot-dog-hands Evelyn isn’t too skilled at talking things out, much like the Evelyn from the core universe where the movie begins.
Later in the core universe, Deirdre arrives at Evelyn’s laundromat to have her arrested for attacking Deirdre—only to call off the cops once she hears that Waymond has served Evelyn with divorce papers. In a quiet moment, Deirdre recalls when her own husband divorced her, and feels she has a better understanding of Evelyn’s situation. “Unlovable bitches like us make the world go ‘round,” Deirdre tells Evelyn. In that moment they understand each other, and they embrace. They aren’t unlovable, and they aren’t alone.
There is so much emotion at the heart of Daniels’ film, but it’s also so much fun. Enough can’t be said about the dynamic, energetic action on display in Everything Everywhere All at Once. Yeoh is an icon of the action genre, and her physical performance proves she’s still at the top of her game. And she’s not the only one to get in on the action—there’s a standout sequence featuring a Waymond from another universe who takes out a group of security guards using only his fanny pack. It’s an excellent use of Hong Kong-style choreography but is also such a creative character moment for Waymond. He is both the oft-ignored, fanny-pack wearing husband of Evelyn and the combat-ready, verse-jumping husband of an Evelyn across the multiverse.
While the movie has kinetic, well-choreographed action scenes, the message at the heart of it is a clear one of peace and kindness—another reason the classic, poetic kung fu aesthetic fits the movie’s themes. Evelyn fights her way across the multiverse, but it’s only through genuine connection and understanding that any conflict is truly resolved.
In a climactic scene, Evelyn must confront the all-powerful villain of the multiverse, Jobu Tupaki, who is revealed to be none other than Evelyn’s deeply misunderstood daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu). Joy transformed into Jobu Tupaki in another universe after Evelyn pushed her too far and her consciousness split. As a result, Jobu Tupaki gained the ability to bend reality and experience every multiverse simultaneously, being quite literally everywhere all at once. At first, she seems dead set on destroying her mother and the entire multiverse, but ultimately she is not looking to destroy. What she wants is to be understood and someone to share in her experiences with—and she wants it from her mother. Similarly, Waymond is desperate to reconnect with his wife. He resorts to serving Evelyn with divorce papers, not because he has given up, but because he wants to be taken seriously. He wants to talk to her, to truly talk to her, but can’t seem to connect with her without drastic measures.
Everything comes to a head when Jobu Tupaki successfully opens Evelyn’s mind so that she also experiences every multiverse at once. Flicking through the multiverse uncontrollably, Evelyn momentarily succumbs to Jobu Tapaki’s nihilistic belief that life is meaningless and her actions don’t matter. It is Waymond who snaps her out of it; his pleas to stop the violence and have everyone talk to one another make Evelyn realize that it is not that nothing matters if everything is fleeting, but that everything matters. Those fleeting moments of clarity and happiness are not meaningless, but instead are the most important moments to be cherished.
With her newfound revelations, Evelyn is able to make peace with her life and herself. After traveling the multiverse through countless variations of her life, Evelyn realizes what’s most important in her own world—her family. While early on Evelyn tells her husband she’s “very busy today, no time to help you,” by the end, she realizes that sometimes, depending on who you’re with, laundry and taxes are enough.
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