A24’s Everything Everywhere All At Once (in theaters now) is a fantastical tale of self-discovery wrapped in a high-flying, cross-cutting, intriguingly conceptual action spectacle. It stars Michelle Yeoh, an actor who can do anything, doing everything we know she can do and then some. As Evelyn Wang, a Chinese American immigrant who’s trapped (she feels) in an unfulfilling marriage and struggling to keep her family’s humble laundromat afloat, Yeoh gives us the dramatic gravitas of a woman held down by her unmet potential.
As Evelyn’s other, alternative selves — concurrent versions of the same woman, all of them shaped by the different choices they’ve made throughout their lives — Yeoh gives us a masterful action star, a poised and proper movie icon, an operatic diva, a put-upon teppanyaki chef, a sensitive queer woman with hot dog fingers… Some of which resemble roles Yeoh has played before. Others could just as well be drawn from Yeoh’s own life.
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It takes magic or, in this particular movie’s case, a multiverse, to bring so many aspects of one character’s personality to life — and a multiverse is precisely what Everything Everywhere, with its heady mix of styles and a Bible’s worth of genre-flipping cinematic shout-outs and cultural references, has in mind. But for an international movie star as skilled and varied as Yeoh, who thankfully has the credits and career endurance to match her talent, you don’t need a multiverse: Her filmography already speaks for itself.
You get her early, Hong Kong girls-with-guns feature Yes, Madam (1986), a peak of its genre, alongside the Brosnan-era Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies (1998); a turn-of-the-century wuxia throwback (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) next to fraught period dramas (The Lady and Memoirs of a Geisha) and modern, romantic pop confections (Crazy Rich Asians). She’s done Star Trek; she’s done Marvel; she’s part of the Jackie Chan Cinematic Universe. Maybe all that was missing, until this newest movie, was the one-volume omnibus, the career retrospective packed into two hours.
And that is part, but only part, of the joy and the joke. Everything Everywhere All At Once was written and directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, the collaborative filmmaking pair known publicly as the Daniels, and it bears the mark of their work to date, as pop-attuned and insistently creative as their music videos, with more than its share of teen-boyish comedic hijinks.
Then again, indiscretion isn’t the same as indecision. I was less moved by the emotional contours of the movie’s plot than by the sincerity baked into its concept from the start — but all this ultimately means is that the movie has succeeded at the hard part.