Compassion Prevails Through the Chaos of ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’

The concept of the multiverse is nothing new. From the success of Marvel’s Spider-Man: No Way Home, to the increasing anticipation for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, it seems as if multiverses are what attracts audiences today. While the market for multiverses is saturated with webbed superheroes and mystical wizards, it is refreshing to see Everything Everywhere All at Once assert its place in the multiverse genre with a wild, wacky and original story.

Written and directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert — commonly known as the Daniels — Everything Everywhere All at Once is exactly as overwhelming as it sounds: filled to the absolute brim with all the weird and wild in this universe and more. It’s one of the most imaginative films in modern cinema and it was pure bliss to experience this on the big screen.

From left, Stephanie Hsu, Michelle Yeoh, and Ke Huy Quan in Everything Everywhere All at Once. A24.
From left, Stephanie Hsu, Michelle Yeoh, and Ke Huy Quan in Everything Everywhere All at Once. A24. Photo credit: Larkin Seiple

The film stars Michelle Yeoh as Evelyn Wang, an aging Chinese immigrant who owns a laundromat with her husband Waymond Wang, played by Ke Huy Quan. When their business gets audited by Deirdre, an IRS bureaucrat (Jamie Lee Curtis), Evelyn is swept into a mind-bending adventure, where she alone can save the multiverse from a dark force that has taken hold of her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu). Evelyn fights to defeat evil by tapping into the alternate versions of herself and borrowing their skills, emotions and memories, all in the face of absurd chaos.

Chaotic is a severe understatement to describe this movie. It is a bizarre explosion of uncontrollable immaturity. It will assault you with googly eyes, hot dog fingers, lewd toys and all the goofy craziness the infinite cosmos has to offer. Yet amid the mayhem, the film remains true to its emotional core.

It is in these silly moments that the film disarms you, opens you up through laughter and strikes you with earnest emotion while you’re the most vulnerable. Before you know it, you’re crying your eyes out to something as simple and stupid as two rocks falling on each other (as it turns out, the multiverse is the perfect place to work out family issues).

Experiencing this film is ultimately a cathartic lesson that crying and laughter are not exclusive and it is a testament to Daniels’ writing that they are able to brilliantly tread this fine line.

In many ways, this movie feels like a celebration of Michelle Yeoh’s monumental career. There are callbacks to her roles in the wuxia classic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the landmark blockbuster Crazy Rich Asians. But Yeoh hasn’t really had a chance to really showcase her range of talents until now; her performance in Everything Everywhere is beautifully painted with skillful martial arts, rich human emotion, stellar comic timing and endless depth.

After a 20 year hiatus, Quan returns to acting with conviction. It’s no surprise the child star of The Goonies and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom plays Waymond with a childlike quality. But this is a more mature and grown Quan, who imbues soul and heart into his performance and we’re all glad he’s back.

Stephanie Hsu is the breakout star of this movie and she embodies the growing generational divide and the rebelliousness that stretches across universes.

The movie is as much of a science-fiction movie as it is an action movie and the fight sequences are nothing short of ridiculous. The fight choreography in Everywhere Everything is playful and kinetic. Yeoh and Quan return to their martial arts background while breathing fresh air into the fighting styles of the likes of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, legends of the 70s and 80s Hong Kong action cinema the movie pays tribute to.

As a Chinese-American with an immigrant mom who I see very much of in Evelyn, Everything Everywhere feels extremely honest about the shared experiences of being an immigrant in America: the promise and struggles of the American dream, the microaggressions from white government officials and the burden of generational expectations. Maybe it’s why Daniels decided to go in such a weird direction for the film; forcing us to blindly navigate the crazy multiverse alongside Evelyn allows the audience to feel as alienated as Evelyn — as any immigrant — does navigating America.

Michelle Yeoh plays a Chinese immigrant who owns a laundromat in Everything Everywhere All at Once. A24.
Michelle Yeoh plays a Chinese immigrant who owns a laundromat in Everything Everywhere All at Once. A24. Photo credit: Larkin Seiple

With the rise of Anti-Asian hate crimes in the past year, it pains me to see my community under attack. When many of us see a new video of another attack on an Asian elder at a train station, we can’t help but think: “What if that was my grandmother or grandfather?”

In an interview with PopMatters, director Kwan says he hopes this movie “can become this thing where, when people see this character of Evelyn, they’ll see in her some lady in Chinatown, or someone like that and see the multitudes contained within them.”

In this world of hate and conflict, Everything Everywhere All at Once has a simple — yet profound — message to help heal the wounds that divide us. It is a deep, powerful, beautiful and existential examination on the choices we make in life, all our regrets and our mistakes, all the paths we can but never take, all the sacrificed hopes and dreams, everything that leads us to everywhere and finding the love and empathy to still make the world a better place.

Even if our lives aren’t what we hoped for, even if generational trauma has numbed us, even if we feel the unbearable weight of everything everywhere all at once, compassion is what pulls us through.

Everything Everywhere All at Once is now playing in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York City. It will premiere nationally on April 8.