The sci-fi fantasy film is the perfect blend of art and entertainment
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Story: Evelyn Wang, a Chinese/American laundromat owner, suffers from a midlife crisis as she is unable to handle the mounting pressures of running a business, a strained relationship with her teenage daughter, a failing marriage, and her efforts to finally win the approval of her conservative father. But her life is turned upside down when her husband’s alternate version from another universe visits her to reveal that she is the only person who can save the multiverse from the mysterious Jobu Tupaki.
Review: There have been several debates in recent years about the decline of cinema as a result of the barrage of formulaic or ‘template’ films often belonging to the superhero genre. In fact, several acclaimed filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Ridley Scott, and James Cameron have been critical of the genre. As one would expect, the very partisan fandoms did not take this criticism too kindly. But the past two years have offered renewed hope that cinema as envisioned by the aforementioned filmmakers is finally making a comeback. Everything Everywhere All At Once is the best example that original and compelling cinema has finally made its glorious comeback.
At its core, Everything Everywhere All At Once is a story about existentialism and midlife crisis, but it’s also so much more. It would be a disservice to explain the true essence of the film in a few sentences, it is something that needs to be experienced first-hand. Nevertheless, it must be said that it features the best elements of the martial art genres with excellent fight sequences paying homage to a few Jackie Chan action comedies. In fact, directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert wanted Chan to headline the film until Michelle Yeoh eventually landed the lead role of Evelyn. And Evelyn’s husband, Waymond, essayed by Ke Huy Quan, is possibly a Jackie Chan archetype. However, Quan is tremendous in the role and Yeoh delivers one of her career-best performances as the matriarch of the fractured Wang family.
The film’s central theme explores the idea that human beings are insignificant in the grand scheme of things in the multiverse. This is layered in through the character of Joy Wang, Evelyn and Waymond’s daughter, and her nihilistic beliefs. The film also uses Evelyn and Waymond to convey the contradiction to nihilism that no matter how insignificant, each individual’s actions play a vital role in shaping the lives of themselves and those around them. Their lives are a microcosm of the wider human civilisation. There is also an emphasis on how perceptions of modern cultural and political beliefs will always be different from generation to generation but how the lack of discourse in a contemporary society dominated by digital and social media is creating chaos.
The film incorporates these philosophical conundrums into the narrative without upsetting the flow of the story. Therein lies the reason why this could be the best film of 2022. Everything Everywhere All at Once has the right balance of art and entertainment — the comedy is not shoehorned for comedic relief, but fundamental to the story, as are the Kung-Fu and surreal set pieces. There are hints of the HBO Max DC series Doom Patrol in the film in how it has factored in the most bizarre plot devices without making them stick out like a sore thumb. The ‘Raccacoonie’ storyline is an obvious nod to the animated film Ratatouille and there is also a sequence from the ‘sausage fingers’ storyline that pays homage to Stanley Kubrick’s magnum opus, 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Several films that have offered a unique style and storytelling experience have shown the tendency to falter in their final act, but in the case of Everything Everywhere All at Once, its final act is its crème de la crème. The climatic sequences are a roller coaster of emotions packed with action, drama, and tears. The other characters played by Hollywood veterans Jamie Lee Curtis and James Hong as well as relative newcomer Stephanie Hsu are crucial to the climatic sequences and essay their roles to perfection. But the true stars of the film are its leads Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan, who embody the very essence of the film.
Verdict: There are not many films that are as profound in their philosophical subtexts, but also hilarious, emotional, and visually striking as Everything Everywhere All At Once. It is a landmark in filmmaking with its original story and excellence in execution. It could go down in history as a genre-redefining film and the best of 2022.