Everything Everywhere All at Once review: Extremely ambitious and strikingly original
There's a lot going on in the Daniels' absurdist multiverse actioner – and thankfully most of it works.
No one could argue that Everything Everywhere All at Once, the terrific new film from directing duo Daniels (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheiner), is misleadingly titled. An extremely ambitious, spectacularly original, and sometimes rather dizzying affair, the film brings a whole new definition to the phrase 'throwing everything at the wall' – and the good news for cinemagoers is that a good deal of it sticks.
Our central character is middle-aged launderette owner Evelyn Wang – played with tremendous relish by Michelle Yeoh – whose life is initially presented as both humdrum and rather chaotic. We're introduced to her and her family in a perfectly executed opening sequence that offers the first glimpse of Daniels' virtuosic direction, as she attempts to deal with all manner of difficulties: an ailing father, a deteriorating marriage, a contemptuous relationship with her teenage daughter, and perhaps most stressful of all, a looming tax audit.
These early stages – before the multiverse and all its attendant zaniness kicks in – are absolutely crucial in terms of setting the scene, and the rest of the film only works because of how deftly the character dynamics and stakes have been established, meaning we have something to cling on to and care about when things inevitably get a bit crazy.
And make no mistake, things certainly get a bit crazy. When Evelyn briefly zones out before a meeting with Jamie Lee Curtis' busybody tax inspector Deirdre, she is approached by a man who seems strikingly similar to her husband, with the one exception that he handles himself with a great deal more gravitas. This mysterious stranger, it turns out, is Alpha Waymond – a version of her husband from a parallel universe who has arrived in this one to enlist Evelyn on a crucial mission.
More like this
And so after a bit of necessary explanation and exposition – which thankfully doesn't feel too overdone – we are thrown into a very different world, or rather lots of very different worlds. The multiverse concept by its very nature opens us up to limitless possibilities, and Everything Everywhere manages this potential with far more gusto and innovation than the recently released MCU flick Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which appears remarkably plain by comparison. Most importantly, it gives Daniels a huge playground to show off a range of formal tricks as the characters engage in brilliantly choreographed combat scenes incorporating several increasingly bizarre universes, many of which also see the directors exercising their unique brand of humour.
This humour is often unashamedly absurdist – what would you expect from a directing pair whose last film has become known as the Daniel Radcliffe farting corpse movie? – and although it occasionally strays into territory that's perhaps a little too puerile for its own good, there are more than enough genuinely laugh out loud moments to forgive it a few missteps. Several of these moments come in the form of riffs on other films, with movies as diverse as Ratatouille and 2001: A Space Odyssey among those to be referenced, while most viewers will also come away from the film with rather a different view of hot dogs.
Multiverses are everywhere at the moment, and according to the directors the film came about partly as a riposte to the nihilism the concept often instills in them. This theme is confronted head-on in the film's frantic final act, which eventually leads to an extremely earnest ending that in the wrong hands could have felt slightly corny but here feels entirely earned. That's as much to do with the commitment of the stars – Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan are especially impressive – as the invention of the directors, and proves that for all the eccentricity and excess it's the film's emotional pull that remains its greatest strength.
Everything Everywhere almost certainly won't be for everyone – the aforementioned immaturity could prove too much of a turn-off for some viewers, and it undoubtedly threatens to become a bit exhausting the deeper we head into the multiverse, but if you just go with it and follow the emotional arc there's a whole lot to enjoy, including a pleasingly life-affirming conclusion. It's a fun and engaging way to explore family dynamics and existentialist themes – and if nothing else, you'll certainly never be more moved by a pair of rocks with googly eyes stuck on.
The latest issue of Radio Times magazine is on sale now – subscribe now and get the next 12 issues for only £1. For more from the biggest stars in TV, listen to the Radio Times podcast with Jane Garvey.