Daniels’ Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022)
By Bobby Lovett
Everything Everywhere All At Once lives up to its name with somewhat questionable results, but it’s a deservedly messy outing with a unique taste to it, an earnest, if forgettable, cinematic entry in 2022 that’s worth anyone’s while.
Mostly the problem with it ends up being that it’s completely overwhelming – of course, that’s exactly its intent as we’re taken on a wild ride from start to finish, a colorful extravaganza that borders on obnoxious. It’s defined by the fact that it’s simply too much, but better to push boundaries in this day and age than play it safe as so many other movies have done.
At the same time, it feels like massive improvements could have been made had it simply been shortened by anywhere up to a full half hour. It’s a long movie, but it feels like too much as opposed to drawn out. It gets to the point fairly early on, a simple and easy to understand point, but then it keeps reiterating it in extravagant ways, which at first feels innovative but then evolves into a feeling that the core concept is not strong enough to fill its excessive runtime.
Daniels, the official title of directing duo Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, are known for their odd faculties. A pair of former Emerson film students, the directing team are locals, giving more reason to feel proud of their big screen hit. In a world of corporate dominance, it’s nice to see a team creating stories that take risks, even if the risks have muddled outcomes. This feels even more important in terms of representation – with such an incredible lack of prominent Asian American cinema, it’s fantastic to see a story being told from this perspective that’s humanizing and also allows itself to be messy and imperfect. It feels more necessary than ever as our cultural landscape evolves into dire territory.
The two are perhaps best known outside of this entry in their oeuvre for Swiss Army Man, their debut feature and last feature length collaboration, an odd and distinct release starring Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe, currently perhaps best known as The Riddler in 2022’s The Batman, and the titular character in the Harry Potter franchise, respectively. Truth be told, however, their most popular outing is one they’re not necessarily associated with at all, despite director Kwan even starring in it – the music video for “Turn Down For What,” the 2013 hit song by DJ Snake and Lil Jon, that to this day has over 1 Billion views on YouTube alone.
The absurdity and kinetic intensity of that video, as well as the clear push for diversity in an otherwise unthinking climate, translates directly into Everything Everywhere All At Once, starring Michelle Yeoh as a middle aged, working class Chinese-American woman who, at various points throughout the film, essentially wishes she was actually Michelle Yeoh. There’s a funny, if somewhat questionable, irony to it all, that one of the most iconic stars on the planet would play this more down to earth, relatable character, but I will say that when the trailer came out, Yeoh’s performance reminded me very much of my own mother, and that was more than enough to get me interested in what was to come.
A good friend said he wasn’t particularly interested in the film because it seemed “below Yeoh’s paygrade,” which I at first found hypercritical, but in hindsight I’m more understanding – for an actor best known for roles in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon as well as Tomorrow Never Dies of the James Bond franchise, and now for films such as Crazy Rich Asians, Shang-Chi, and TV show Star Trek: Discovery, she’s clearly most associated with high budget franchises and award-winning international hits. Playing a working class immigrant in a wacky indie film by relatively unknown directors feels like a stark contrast to her typically far more glamorous roles that are often very reflective of her real life celebrity status.
But that’s part of what makes the film so moving, even as it struggles in some senses with its believability. There’s a clear personal touch to everything that occurs – frequent references to other films and filmmakers, such as Wong Kar-wai and iconic Disney picture Ratatouille, show a love for the craft and its diverse array of genres. Yeoh is no longer reduced to her wealth – she is finally permitted her humanity, as is the rest of the cast in this goofy tale that feels as if it’s been often told before…but never quite like this.
But, ultimately, who cares? I can nitpick this film all day – I certainly have my issues with it – but at the end of the day, Everything Everywhere All At Once is an inspiration. It actively chooses, or rather allows itself, to be naturally funny, naturally earnest, touching, goofy, and heartwarming, mind-boggling not out of complexity so much as with an expanded threshold. It’s experimental on a big budget scale, and an ode to some of the best stupidity and nonsense that used to grace the big screen, but with genuine wit to it all. It’s a bundle of fun that exists beyond fun, but doesn’t go too far. I wouldn’t call it a masterpiece, but I would call it a new kind of crowd pleaser, that hopefully opens the door to even better films to come.