Michelle Yeoh delivers a bravura performance in this most cerebral of action movies: here’s our Everything Everywhere All At Once review.
It’s been six years since The Daniels – the writing and directing partnership of Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert – last released a movie (Swiss Army Man, which was their first full-length outing after making their name in the world of music videos). While that seems a long gap, if they spent every waking moment of it creating the pounding two hours of cinema I’ve just been bombarded with, then it was time well spent.
Everything Everywhere All At Once is an overwhelming watch at the first time of asking, a film that can spit you out on the street into the fading light of a May evening feeling slightly deranged and not a little disoriented. To call it ‘a journey’ is a massive understatement; and to describe a film that – at a key moment – has you fully emotionally invested in a silent, subtitled conversation between two inanimate rocks as anything less than a triumph would be selling it short.
Yes, it is a bumpy ride, and one you have to commit to fully to get the most from. You have to give in to the silliness, and not pick at the seams too much. The reward for this is there in getting to enjoy watching Michelle Yeoh be Michelle Yeoh.
Every time the willfully bombastic visuals and heady narrative conceit threaten to shake this film to pieces, the glue that holds everything together is its star. If Bond and, more comprehensively, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon introduced Yeoh to a western audience, it may well be this film that comes to be seen as her defining performance. That’s something which, as she approaches 40 years on screen, should make you want to stand and applaud.
She delivers nothing less than a masterclass. The film, unsurprisingly, leans on her martial arts skills to deliver its outrageous, entertaining, and often extremely funny action sequences. But – more importantly, and more rewardingly – it also showcases her prowess as an actor that can serve as a believable, vulnerable, flawed, and relatable proxy to guide the audience through what turns out to be a traumatic journey of introspection wrapped in a head-spinning multiverse fight-along adventure. You’d say she carries the whole film on her shoulders, were it not for her supporting cast being so strong. Stephanie Hsu as her daughter and the film’s antagonist; Ke Huy Quan (who western viewers may recognise from Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom) as her husband and action/comedy foil; and the wonderful James Hong as her father, are doing more than their fair share of heavy lifting too when it comes to selling the absurd story unfolding around them.
However, it’s Yeoh’s range that is most admirable as the film demands she wildly oscillate from slapstick goofiness through to genuinely heartrending and earnest emotional crescendos. She makes the most of a script that appears tailored to display all that makes her a great screen presence, while simultaneously parodying and questioning every sacrifice and decision that has bought her to that point in a pleasingly meta way. In doing that, it implicitly asks its audience to look at their own life choices; not always a comfortable experience, but one that elevates Everything Everywhere immensely.
This all works because, amid the chaos, weirdness, pulsating visuals and philosophising, the script strategically sets up an array of elements that proceed to pay off in never-less-than-satisfying, and often spectacular, ways. From googly eyes placed on the wash bags of a dowdy launderette, to what seems a cheap visual gag involving an Employee of the Month Award, to the most philosophical and grandiose of themes – nothing is wasted. Everything in the stew adds to the flavour and texture.
A love letter to the star power of Michelle Yeoh, to the potential of cinema and – aw, shucks – life itself, Everything Everywhere is a genuinely moving spectacle. I was expecting a wild visual ride, delivered using a full modern arsenal of visual trickery, but I wasn’t expecting it to be packed with the full gamut of human emotion and a wonderfully mature depiction of the stresses of life and the power of parental love. Nor was I expecting regular laugh out loud gags littered liberally throughout. Yeah, these things are often concluded with simplified, straight-out-of-therapy life lessons, but this is one is sold with so much panache it’s very hard to resist.
A heartfelt comment on the human condition and modern ennui packaged in a fantastically gonzo manner, it’s a lot to unpack. Is it a perfect film? I doubt it, and I can’t tell you how I’m going to feel about it across multiple viewings. However, in terms of immediate impact, it delivers a solid shot to the jaw that I took gladly. Seek this film out and support it. The version of you in this universe may hate it, but there is no place in the multiverse this doesn’t add up to an admirably big ol’ swing of the bat and a project that deserves respect for its breadth of vision and skill in delivery.
Let’s face it, how often do non-franchise action movies with three great female performances at their heart (Jamie Lee Curtis gets a Chef’s Kiss too), James Hong, a wicked sense of humour, and something insightful to say about the way we live our lives come along? Not often enough.
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