Breaking the record for studio A24’s highest grossing film of all time, Everything Everywhere All at Once is an optimistically nihilistic whirlwind of a narrative, bending the lines of genre and originally depicting family dynamics of today.
Directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert with performances from Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, Jenny Slate, and Harry Shum Jr., this film tells the story of Evelyn, a woman consumed by stress and the morose feeling of lost potential: her laundromat business is tanking, the exciting relationship she once had with her husband has turned cold, her bond with her only daughter is strained and nearly nonexistent, and, despite the good in her life, she has a sinking feeling that she could have done more.
When Evelyn goes to visit the IRS after struggling to do her taxes, she is met with a version of her husband, Waymond, from a different universe. He tells Evelyn that it is up to her to save the multiverse from a powerful force named Jobu Tupaki. Like the Daniels’ previous film, Swiss Army Man, this story portrays a hilariously absurdist but gut-wrenching world that cracks at the questions “what does it mean to care for each other” and “when do we know we are living a life worth living.”
Here are three reasons why you should take a look at the film, not just for how insanely great it is, but for your writing as well:
1) The blending of genres
Something I deeply appreciated about this story is how it takes sci-fi elements such as multiverse travel (coined “verse-jumping” in the film) and marries those concepts to a rich and powerful “real life” conflict.
I found Evelyn and Joy’s (her daughter) disintegrated and progressively restored relationship to be one of the most well-written pieces of the whole movie. It draws on themes of acceptance, generational trauma, and pride, and comes to a teary eyed, emotionally resonant conclusion.
However, like films such as Pan’s Labyrinth and Being John Malkovich, the genre elements of this film both complement and enhance the more “literary” conflicts.
In Everything Everywhere All at Once, we are already invested in the mother-daughter conflict because it feels authentic, it is familiar to us and our world.
But, with having a sci-fi backdrop the stakes are risen. Now, not only are we invested in this relationship because we want these two characters to resolve their interpersonal issues, but we are also invested because the safety of the multiverse depends on it.
2) The monologues
As a serial dialogue-non-user, I was so incredibly impressed how much this film relied on long stretches of dialogue from a single character.
There are several emotional but also philosophical monologues on topics such as kindness, existentialism, and joy in simplicity that propel the characters into completing their arc.
It was so interesting to see a character’s development come to fruition via epiphany.
There is a moment in each monologue where the character realizes they have learned something they didn’t know at the beginning of the story, and that knowledge is important enough to share with both the other characters and the audience.
Through hearing these characters’ monologues, this film clearly describes the “moral” or “meaning” of the story they are trying to get at.
The directors, through their characters, clearly state what you are meant to take away from the story. Ultimately, this gave Everything Everywhere All at Once as sense of lucidity and structure that many stories struggle to achieve.
3) Hot dog hands
But not just hot dog hands, there’s more: a giant bagel, racoon-versions of Ratatouille, characters turning into rocks, turning into pinatas, eating ChapStick, fights with confetti, dildo weaponry.
Everything Everywhere All at Once implements absurdity to the max. Around every corner, there’s a scene that pops with hilarious insanity.
I would like to say that this film’s brand of absurdity draws on other creators—Kafka, Kauffman, Lynch, Camus, Woolf—but that wouldn’t be quite true.
More than any other writers I’ve experienced, the Daniels’ revitalize what it means to be an absurdist piece of art.
While other stories often use absurdity to distance and alienate the protagonist and audience—for example, we do not feel especially good with Gregor Samsa turning into a giant bug and I don’t think Gregor feels good about it either—Everything Everywhere All at Once uses its absurdity to bring the characters and the audience closer.
There are several scenes in this film that are beautiful and heartwarming to the point of tears but are also incredibly wacky in their delivery. It is this delivery, however, that make these scenes all the more touching. This narrative forces you to look at the absurdity of life and then holds you.
It tells you that, even though life is absurd and weird and sometimes you turn into a rock, you’ll be okay.