The Daniels’ (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) present us with a movie about Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), who is struggling with just about everything – her business, her marriage, her daughter, her father. In the midst of a tax audit, Evelyn finds herself dragged into a very strange multiversal conflict wherein she has to “verse jump” into alternate versions of herself and temporarily acquire the abilities and skills of those versions in order to evade a chaotic antagonist, Jobu Tupaki, who is after Evelyn for reasons unknown and also the agents of Jobu Tupaki.
This movie, while really bizarre in some bits, is an overall solid and entertaining sci-fi action film and deserves to be seen.
- In the first half especially, it reminded me of Knives Out in that it is an original movie featuring some big name cast members and has a story that is energetic and interesting and funny.
- This is a movie that seems made for Michelle Yeoh. I think she carries the lead role very well, and the story makes good use of her acting skills and her martial arts skills. (Reportedly the role was originally written for Jackie Chan but the filmmakers decided that it would have more weight and interest if it was a woman instead of a man. Good choice!)
- They found a really effective in-universe explanation for having some absolutely bonkers scenes. The people of the Alpha universe who discovered how to meld their minds with other versions of themselves from other universes made it such that some completely, extremely random and unlikely action would be the trigger that locks the mental connection into place. It could be something as minor yet odd like putting one’s shoes on the wrong feet, or something as more obviously odd as eating a stick of lip gloss or purposefully giving yourself four paper cuts, or something extremely ridiculous like trying to get a trophy shoved up one’s behind. I have to applaud the ingenuity of the idea because it really is a great logical excuse for doing illogical things.
- The multiverse/parallel universe angle of the movie meant that they could really go all out in terms of exploring alternate versions of the characters. The antagonist especially got some kooky costumes that didn’t need to be explained because they were obviously some other version of her from another, more outlandish universe.
- I think what makes all the crazy stuff work is that the emotional core of the story is utterly sincere. It is a story about a woman finding a sort of peace with herself, with her husband, with her father, and with her daughter. The framing device for the emotional story may be outlandish but because they treat the emotions with care and weight, the movie as a whole is kept grounded and relatable.
- The cast in general did well.
Ke Huy Quan was very good as Waymond, Evelyn’s mild-mannered husband. He was very believable and likeable as the nice but put-upon Waymond but also as his more determined, more physically capable Alpha-verse self and also as the wealthy, successful businessman self in the universe where Evelyn is a movie star. I liked the character and I liked the performance.
Jamie Lee Curtis as the mean IRS auditor put in a fun performance, going from mean to evil (when taken over by an alternate self) to warm to somewhat sympathetic.
Stephanie Hsu might be the only one I have a slight quibble with but that quibble is more a problem with me than her. I’m so accustomed to seeing her in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel that it’s tricky to adjust my expectations when I see her on screen. However, it seems that Awkwafina was the original choice to play Evelyn’s daughter, and I think Stephanie Hsu is a far better choice.
- There were many references to other movies, all as far as I can tell, they were all done well. The kungfu movie influences are obvious and fun. The dialogue between Evelyn and Waymond in the movie star universe was great and an excellent nod to Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love. I’ve never seen Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey but I know just enough to get the reference to it with the music and the apes. The reference to Ratatouille was immediately recognisable and I thought it hilarious that Evelyn’s mixed-up version – she called it Racacoonie – turned out to be true in an alternate universe featuring Harry Shum as a version of Linguini that becomes a genius chef thanks to a racoon. hahahah
- I loved that they made full use of Michelle Yeoh’s real movie star self and inserted very quick cuts of footage from her Crazy Rich Asians red carpet appearances (and possibly some others) to show the version of Evelyn that’s brilliant at martial arts and is a superstar because of it.
- I have been trying to figure out why my reaction to the movie at the beginning was “Oh wow this is amazing” and in the last act that reaction became more muted into “A very good movie but something’s not quite appealing to me here.”
After reading some other reviews and comments on the movie, I think I know what it is: the tonal shift in the last act. It was almost breakneck pace at the beginning and then in the third act it slowed down to focus on the emotional storyline but it slowed down too much. Or maybe the first half was too fast and should have slowed down a tiny bit to better match the pace of the ending?
On top of that, Jobu Tupaki’s end goal wasn’t entirely clearly to me. She created some strange cosmic bagel that was like a black hole…? And she wanted to die in it…? (This confusion on my part may be because I really had to use to loo in the middle of the movie and missed about a minute’s worth of scenes.)
- Some bits were just too weird and those scenes, while funny at first, eventually became slightly annoying. An example of this is the universe where everyone has floppy sausage-like fingers. It was hilarious when it first came up. But every time it showed up again, it got less and less amusing and while there is a point to it and the “skill” Evelyn has in that universe does have a payoff in the story, it became a distraction to me.
- The universe where they are rocks. This did not work for me. It’s not the movie’s fault – judging from the commentary online, many people loved it. The problem was that in the Malaysian cinematic version, they stripped the English subtitles and left only the Malay and Chinese ones. The Malay subtitles were not great and (if memory serves me right) at least once there were no subtitles at all. Given that their stone selves were communicating sort of telepathically without any dialogue except through subtitles, this was terrible because any humour and meaning in those scenes was lost on me through no fault of the filmmakers themselves. Now I need to go find a pirated version if I want to know what was happening in those rock sequences…
- I don’t remember the music at all.
- The VFX work on the movie was apparently handled by basically five people at home, during the pandemic. That is crazy and amazing. Everything Everywhere doesn’t have as many VFX shots as a blockbuster film but it has a fair amount. This short interview with the directors and one of their VFX guys gives a good look at how they worked out the special effects and the visual effects.