Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert further cement their cult status with the hellzapoppin and appropriately titled Everything Everywhere All at Once, the team’s follow-up to Swiss Army Man. The Daniels’ joint theatrical feature debut, the buzziest word-of-mouth must-see at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, remains the finest film ever made about a friendship between a marooned loner and a flatulent corpse. So what do you do for an encore? Sans Kwan, Scheinert directed oft-overlooked gem The Death of Dick Long in 2019, but the wide A24 release of Everything Everywhere All at Once should shine the brightest spotlight on the filmmakers to date.
Sprinting to cinemas just ahead of Sam Raimi’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Everything Everywhere All at Once — which premiered on March 11 as part of South by Southwest — also embraces the premise of infinite cosmological possibility, wrapping its old-fashioned family reconciliation drama in a sprawling tribute to classic kung fu fantasy. In their wild landscape, the Daniels catapult Michelle Yeoh’s frustrated laundromat proprietor onto the tracks of a rollercoaster careening through a dizzying set of alternative (sur)realities.
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Yeoh’s Evelyn Wang may be on the cusp of divorce from husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan, fantastic from start to finish), but that’s just one of her problems. A strained relationship with daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) and the recent arrival of disapproving father Gong Gong (James Hong) compound the stress of an IRS audit being conducted by Deirdre Beaubeirdra (Jamie Lee Curtis). During the tax probe, Evelyn is interrupted by Alpha Waymond, a version of her spouse familiar with a “verse-jumping” technology. The protagonist may be the greatest failure of all the Evelyns who exist, but she also might have what it takes to save everything, everywhere, all at once.
A single viewing of Everything Everywhere All at Once cannot do justice to the movie’s giddy array of references, shout-outs and homages. One can already anticipate the swell of YouTubers gearing up to elucidate as many Easter eggs as a frame-by-frame analysis will allow. From a reconstruction of the Dawn of Man sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey to more subtle nods to the stylish looks of Kar-wai Wong’s distinctive photographic palette, Kwan and Scheinert cram so much information into their project that one can marvel at the ability of the duo to ground such a kaleidoscopic carousel of eye candy in the recognizable feelings of frustration and regret that bedevil Evelyn.
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Some sequences resemble the video game-influenced kinetics of Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, but the weird brew of Everything Everywhere All at Once has its own distinct flavor. The Daniels plant a sloppy kiss on The Matrix and remix beloved Pixar rat Remy into the hysterical Racacoonie. A tough-as-nails martial arts mentor checks Quentin Tarantino checking the Shaw Brothers, and unless I’ve missed my mark, Kwan and Scheinert — longtime aficionados of the rectal — are sui generis when it comes to combat involving butt plug power-ups. At a few minutes short of two and a half hours, Everything Everywhere All at Once nearly wears out its welcome, but as far as hot dog-fingered audacity goes, the Daniels will make plenty of new eyeballs go googly.
Greg Carlson (@gcarlson1972) is a professor of communication studies and the director of the interdisciplinary film studies minor program at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. He is also the film editor of the High Plains Reader, where his writing has appeared since 1997.