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Film Review: Everything Everywhere All at Once

FILM REVIEW
EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE
Rated R
139 Minutes
Released March 25th

Everything Everywhere All at Once starts out with a situation familiar to everyone. Evelyn Wang, played by the incomparable Michelle Yeoh, owns a financially strapped laundromat with her husband Waymond. Begrudgingly, she works on her tax forms. Within a few minutes, the mundane quality of this movie explodes into a commentary on our search to explain humanity and existence, bridging multiple planes of being. This is one of those films that probably needs to be seen more than once to be appreciated, and to completely explain it would take up this whole issue of The Mirror, not to mention at least two weeks of research. So I will attempt to give you a teaser into what you may encounter in watching it.

First of all, this movie is the tour de force that Yeoh deserves. She was born in Malaysia and trained from the age of 4 as a professional ballerina. Then she established herself as a serious actress in Chinese cinema and went on to captivate Western audiences with her work on Tomorrow Never Dies and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. She has been able to use the intense discipline and precision of movement she learned as a dancer to bridge multiple film styles. Having never studied martial arts, she has mastered the movements of the field through on-set training, appearing to be an expert on screen. She does most of her own stunts, and I believe it’s the balletic influence that gives her fluidity and grace. This film shows off her talent as actress and comedian. Here she is part of a wonderful ensemble of characters brought to life by Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, James Hong and Jamie Lee Curtis. Curtis is hilarious as the evil campy IRS Lady.

This is not a gazillion dollar franchise action film with cutting edge graphics. Most of the scenes are filmed in small spaces, the special effects are simple and effective, and the whole movie is awash with symbolism, almost to the point of distraction. Many scenes reflect moments from classic films, providing further texture. 

The film opened on March 25th on only 10 screens in the North American market and was an immediate hit. In spite of the complexity of the story and message, it involves characters with real family issues, who become players in thrilling martial arts sequences. So even if you miss some of the symbolism and hints, it’s fun to watch. This unusual movie is grossing much higher than anyone’s expectations at the box office, and word of mouth seems to be working for it, as attendance has not dropped off two months after its release.

The directors are known as the “Daniels” – Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. Their previous film, Swiss Army Man, was well received but never achieved popularity. The key with Everything Everywhere is that they made the film personal and fun. As they were developing the idea, they pondered “tapping into other universes…an existential spiral…that was when we said, whoa, this is exciting: we get to do existential crisis and fight scenes. They’re our two favorite things!”

There are many references in the symbolism that will mean more to audience members with Asian cultural background. Within the story of the family, which will resonate with all audience members, there are allusions to Buddhist and Daoist philosophy. So if you want to study up on that before you go to see it a second time, you will be rewarded. In Buddhist thought, things exist only in our perception of them, yet our compassion makes us human. 

Overall, what keeps the wheels of success spinning on Everything Everywhere All at Once is that it is refreshingly original. It’s not a rewrite or rehash of anything. It exists in itself. We needed a movie like that right now.

Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which has been the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people.  She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. kboole@gmail.com

in Film
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