‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’ is a once in a generation classic

The Daniels’ genre-bending multiverse fantasy finds meaning in the chaos of our world


Photo courtesy of A24

When the internet was an amusing new gimmick and social media was but a glimmer in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye, there was no way of foreseeing the manner in which they would alter the human psyche. But the ubiquity of these technologies today has led to a strange shift of perspective for those who use them. For some it is acute; for others, it is nearly imperceptible. It is the unplaceable feeling of emptiness that accompanies mindlessly scrolling through Instagram or compulsively binging Tik Tok. It is the sensation of experiencing a never-ending procession of sights, sounds, ideas, and beliefs without any kind of structure or the mental capacity to process it all. Instantaneous access to everything all of the time has left humanity to wade aimlessly through this deluge of information in pursuit of entertainment, truth and above all meaning. “Everything Everywhere All At Once”, a title which itself is an apt description of being online in 2022, is one of the only works of art I have experienced that truly captures the nebulous, overwhelming nature of life in the internet age.

What begins as a humorous if mundane story about Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), an aging Chinese American laundromat owner who is struggling to reconnect with her well meaning, if guileless husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), and capricious father Gong Gong (James Hong) while filing her taxes with domineering IRS auditor Deirdre Beaubeirda (Jaime Lee Curtis) rapidly evolves into an interdimensional martial arts adventure as Evelyn is recruited by an alternate version of her husband to fight a great evil threatening the multiverse. The tension at the heart of “Everything Everywhere” is between the drama of an immigrant mother attempting to reconnect with her husband and daughter and the anarchy of a woman going on a genre-bending journey through the multiverse. The movie is able to strike such an exquisite balance between the two in large part due to the efforts of one of the most magnificent casts assembled in recent memory.


Photo courtesy of A24


The momentous task that besets these actors is that they must embody many versions of their characters from different universes, a challenge that each one rises to meet in their own way. Michelle Yeoh, one of the most formidable action stars ever to grace silver screen, delivers one of her finest performances as Evelyn, the character around which every other orbits. She glides between comic obliviousness and daunting tenacity with ease, as staggering to watch in the role of the contemptuous mother as she is in the balletic martial arts sequences. Jaime Lee Curtis, a generational talent in her own right, transforms the initially austere auditor into an endearingly complex woman who can be as tender as she is tough. The great James Hong reminds us why he is a Hollywood legend while Stephanie Hsu proves herself as a rising star to keep an eye out for. But it was Ke Huy Quan, in his triumph return to acting after a two decade hiatus, whose performance left me utterly flabbergasted. The astonishing range of emotion and humor that he is able to execute while dedicating himself extensively to the action sequences is an awe-inspiring feat.

What the Daniels accomplish here is some of the most audacious filmmaking in years. There is a pervasive sense of manic glee as they change the framing, color grading, lighting, and even the aspect ratio as the characters careen across the multiverse. The cinematography is just as dynamic, with the camera swiveling and zooming in harmony with the wonderfully dissident soundtrack, an old trick from their days of directing music videos. Taken altogether, it is a bonafide tour de force of disparate visual styles, woven together by a fractured, hyperactive editing style deeply reminiscent of the delirium of scrolling indiscriminately through your social media platform of choice. Like almost any artistic work that aims for the heights of hypermodernism, it occasionally comes across as overstuffed, overlong and overindulgent. This is an unfortunate, if inevitable, result of the unbridled passion with which the Daniels crafted this glorious, stylistically insane whirligig of a movie.


Photo courtesy of A24


The uncanny visual language of the movie, more than even its willful disregard for genre and narrative conventions, reinforces its central conceit of the multiverse as a metaphor for digital life. Though the internet is never named by the characters, it looms large over every facet of the story. The antagonist that Evelyn must face in the end is a representation of the youth who have have their sense of reality irrevocably warped by growing up with the internet and the chasm between them and older people who are struggling to build relationships with a generation haunted by the torturous emptiness of being online for their whole lives. It is the ethos of the movie, which addresses the need to find meaning in the swirling chaos of our world by learning to embrace the sublime beauty of life and love, that makes this absurd sci-fi action comedy a cinematic remedy to generational trauma and existential nihilism, the kind of instant classic that only arrives in theaters once in a generation. I can hurl adjectives at my readers until their heads to begin to spin but it will never quite be able to do this movie justice. Despite my efforts to describe it in verbal terms, “Everything Everywhere All At Once” is so bizarre, reflexive, exuberant and altogether free in its conviction that the imagination should go wherever it pleases that the only way to understand everything it is and everything it does is to experience it for yourself.