In the year 1999, audiences sat in theatres all across the world to experience a new sci-fi movie that seemingly had an endless supply of buzz around and wondered to themselves, “What is the Matrix?” It became the 4th highest-grossing movie of that year and a cultural phenomenon for its use of bullet-time effects and its a fascinating concept of “living in a simulation”. The film spawned a new generation of nerds, all inspired by the stylish, strange, and insane world that had been created. Now, almost 23 years later, those nerds have grown up into full-fledged filmmakers, however, they haven’t lost the spirit they had as children.
Two of those filmmakers, Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan (“Daniels” for short), have crafted possibly the greatest multiverse movie of all time (fitting). Everything Everywhere All At Once is the story of a woman, named Evelyn, who is in the midst of a messy life with her husband, who wants a divorce, and a daughter who is lost in her own life. Whilst filing her taxes at an IRS center, she pulled into a multiversal conflict to save reality, as we know it, from being sucked into a bagel. Yes, that’s right, an “everything bagel”. If people found The Matrix to be silly this film is that same weirdness turned up to 1000. And every moment of it is a masterclass.
EEAAO is a testament to that bygone era of midrange budget filmmaking. A movie that was filmed right before the pandemic and had all the odds against it has now persevered and become a modern masterpiece. The film was shot in 39 days in 2 locations, a laundromat and an abandoned home loan center, on a budget of $25 million dollars. The shooting was shut down a day early due to COVID meaning a few scenes were shot completely over zoom on a green screen and later edited together. The VFX work was completed at home over the pandemic by 7 self-taught artists (for context the average Hollywood film has a team of around 100 VFX artists working at one time). The fact that the film is as good and as seamless as it is, in itself, is a miracle in filmmaking.
What really gels the film together is the stellar performances from the always excellent Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsu, veteran actor James Hong, and the iconic Jaimie Lee Curtis. Ke Huy Quan stands out especially considering this is his first major film role in over 30 years, having worked behind the camera since; audiences may recognize him as “Short Round” from Indiana Jones or “Data” from The Goonies. He took a long break due to the lack of Asian roles in major films but, after seeing the highly praised Crazy Rich Asians, he saw an opportunity for people that looked like him to be represented in film. After so many years off-camera, Ke delivers a stunning and emotional comeback to his acting career, giving his best in every second of his screen time. Considering how many different versions of his character he plays, he nails each personality with ease. Newcomer, Stephanie Hsu is equally fantastic as Evelyn’s daughter, giving the extra bite to her character’s on-screen presence. The true standout, however, is Michelle Yeoh, a film veteran known for her iconic roles in martial arts and action films. She delivers a beautiful performance and perfectly captures her character’s grief and confusion. The final monologue in particular is one of the most beautiful things I have witnessed in a theater and had me on the verge of tears.
The action scenes are some of the best to be put to screen in many years. Quan, Yeoh, and Hsu have all put monumental effort into honing the multiple styles of fight choreography required for each fight. The directors don’t try to pull any cheap tricks or cutaways where there may have been a stunt double taking the blows. All the action is filmed in a mesmerizing sequence of wides and close-ups, capturing the wacky and Matrix-esque qualities of each punch and kick.
Overall, Everything Everywhere All At Once is the kind of film that is made to inspire of generation of writers and directors who believe their ideas are too weird or childish to be realized. The Daniels weaves together so many tones and storylines into a perfect gift of a film, maintaining an endearing quality to each of them. The sheer concept alone should be the downfall of this movie but, the difference between The Daniels and most other Hollywood directors is that they are confident and are willing to embrace the beauty in the madness