Every couple of years, during awards season a movie comes around that defies classification, and subverts expectations on what a movie can accomplish. A singularly original idea that is executed amazingly with a talented cast, director and production team. That movie this year was Everything Everywhere All at Once, an impressive movie written and directed by The Daniels and rounded out by some truly memorable performances.
Evelyn and Waymond are a married couple, with a daughter and a laundromat; they're struggling to make ends meet, and will likely soon face intervention from the IRS. That's the simplest of plot descriptions for the beginning of this movie, as it quickly goes into a wild direction. This universe's Evelyn (go with me here) is instrumental in defeating a multiversal being called Jobu Tupaki, who is methodically destroying universes. However, what seems like an over-the-top multiversal spectacle is actually a startlingly simple movie about generational trauma, and what it means to be a family.
That is one of this movie's many strengths: it uses absurdity and downright wild ideas and worlds to tell a very beautiful tale of a mother and a daughter who can't connect. It all works and connects in a way that is masterful in both storytelling and direction. Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan (professionally referred to as The Daniels) pulled double-duty as the film's writers and directors, and did a fantastic job at both; you feel their passion and love for this film at every turn. The story of this family is beautifully elaborate and heartfelt, introducing us to characters that feel very real and authentic, despite all the craziness and spectacle thrown at us. The wild aspects of this movie all make sense as well, which is refreshing as there is currently an abundance of multiverse entertainment at the moment, that has had varying degrees of success.
In terms of direction, The Daniels knowingly make stylistic choices that highlight the absurdity of scenes, while knowing when to downplay it all, to let the relationships shine. One scene in particular stands out, where Evelyn and her daughter Joy are in a universe where they are simply two rocks (yes, you read that correctly) sitting on a cliff talking; it is stunningly effective in making the whole movie stop to focus on their relationship.
While the script and direction are both top notch this movie is really a spotlight for its core performers. As Waymond, Ke Huy Quan shines as a doting father and husband, who is trying to infuse happiness and light where he can. His ability to deliver lines with a bittersweet affection for the world around him is top-notch, and he is responsible for some of the best line delivery in the movie. Michelle Yeoh commands the film as Evelyn, playing the nuances of a woman who has always wondered what could have been, and is finally able to see what possibilities were out there. She fills the movie with a stern bravado that is both effortless and instantly engaging, making you root for her, even if she isn't always doing the right thing. Jamie Lee Curits and James Wong both also give strong supporting performances, though they are given less to do in terms of the whole story.
While all of these veteran performers are turning in career-best work, the standout in this film is Stephanie Hsu as Joy, and (SPOILER) Jobu Tupaki (END SPOILER). A relative newcomer to film, Stephanie brings a level of earnestness, honesty and heartbreak to a role that is so wildly unique that it will undoubtedly go down as one of the best performances of the past decade. From her over-the-top antics during the fight scenes, to her more subdued, intimate conversations with Yeoh, she is a clear star on the rise and I cannot wait to see what movies she decides to do next. If she hasn't put "using dildos as weapons" on her resume yet, then what has she been doing?
All At Once
This movie is unique in its style of storytelling, and the story it's trying to tell. It is an immigrant story, and has an aspect that everyone can relate to. It poses some big questions and thoughts about the universe, our place in it all, and what we should value above all else. Led by two wonderful directors and a stellar cast, this film is one for the ages, and a clear indication that the art form of cinema is not dead (as some pundits would claim). It will be interesting to see what influence this movie has on upcoming projects, and how it ranks in the long line of Oscar Best Picture Winners that it has rightfully joined.