It’s hard to fit “everything everywhere at once” into a review. But if you take away just one thing, let Michelle Yeoh kick ass, and this movie is the definitive proof of that.
Yeoh is a Hong Kong action superstar who has gone toe-to-toe with Jackie Chan and Jet Li, been part of an all-female superhero film (“Heroic Trio”), directed historical dramas (“The Soong Sisters”) and was a Bond girl (“Tomorrow Never Dies”). But no American film has given her a starring role to showcase her talent. Until now and A24’s “Everything Everywhere All At Once.”
The 59-year-old Hong Kong action superstar finally has her American breakthrough film that showcases not only her martial arts but also her dramatic skills and precise comic timing.
Yeoh plays Evelyn Wang, who begins the film with IRS issues escalating to an existential level. An alternate universe version of her husband (played by Ke Huy Quan of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Goonies) informs her that the future of the multiverse depends on her. That’s a lot of pressure on Evelyn, whose laundromat is in financial crisis, whose daughter (Stephanie Hsu) is filled with anger and fear, whose husband wants a divorce, and whose father (played by James Hong) has just arrived from China. But apparently, Evelyn’s ability to fail at everything could make her the perfect superhero to save the world.
I could tell you everything that happened in the film and you would still have no idea what it was about. You just have to go and experience it.
Written and directed by the Daniels – known individually as Dan Kwan and Daniel Schienert – the film comes at you with chaotic energy and sucks you in like a black hole.
The Daniels, who directed the wildly inventive Swiss Army Man, describe themselves as millennials who grew up on the internet, and the film reflects that perspective. But Yeoh’s performance brings an anchoring humanity to the film that makes us worry even though the universe tells us nothing matters. The Daniels bring us to the brink of total annihilation, but then find a way to make us comfortable with it.
There’s a sort of alchemy at work, as well as physics, and the two combine to deliver a film that’s just hilariously entertaining. It constantly subjects us to sensory overload, but it also shows so much heart and humor that leaving the theater leaves us blissfully intoxicated.
That heart and humor comes from Yeoh and more and more from Quan, who entertains us by adding googly eyes to everything and engaging in a fanny pack action scene.
Yeoh dazzles us as she transitions from frumpy to glamorous, dejected to triumphant, confused to confident. She can play any emotion and strikes almost any tone an actress can ask for. She also takes on Jamie Lee Curtis’ hilarious IRS examiner. There’s just so much to enjoy from this cast.
Everything Everywhere All At Once will leave you breathless, confused, entertained, amazed, touched and maybe even a little enlightened. But one thing is clear: Michelle Yeoh is to be expected. And hopefully this Daniel’s movie will wake up Hollywood to what Yeoh is capable of so she can get more starring roles.
Some Thoughts of a Physicist
I happened to see the preview screening of Everything Everywhere All At Once with Robert Penny, a friend who happens to be a physicist, and I wanted to get him to share some of his thoughts as the film plays with ideas about it explores the multiverse and black holes (represented in this case by an everything bagel).
At the outset, Robert Penny explained, “Physics is really about modeling and predicting. There is the world around us; Things have been observed and physicists have made mathematical models of things over the years to try and explain them. I think the philosophical question that physics has been trying to solve for a long, long time is this sense of the real world that we have around us compared to the way we know the universe is microscale too seems to work and we are mathematically very good at predicting how atoms behave in this quantum mechanical behavior. But how do we carry the consequences of this into the real world? And the universe doesn’t have to behave like this all the way down and all the way up. But as Einstein said, “Common sense is the amount of prejudice we acquired by the age of 18.”
Life as shown in the film is difficult to predict and not easy to explain. The film suggests that every time someone makes a decision, there is a split where that person’s life splits into two different trajectories, creating a multiverse (something long popular in comics and science fiction) . The film doesn’t pretend to deal seriously with science in any way, but offers some food for thought. Capture a hilarious moment by re-enacting the famous monkey scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
“In the multiverse interpretation, where they go all the way back to ‘Dawn’ in 2001, where evolution goes in a different direction, that’s absolutely beautiful,” Penny remarked. “But when the multiverse happens, there are many different ways to pack up in that universe. So that was one of the things that was brought up as a main theme in the film Everything Everywhere All At Once, the possibility of other possibilities forking off. In a sense, everything is a universe, but we go and drive in one direction and the other possibility, which we cannot see, goes in a different direction with a different existence. So the universe is this evolving quantum mechanical state.”
And that’s one of those things that makes your head spin. Penny suggested checking out the Universe Splitter app to accompany the film for an additional way to think about the multiverse.
But not everything is easy to explain.
“I know that when I first started to understand some physics things, I just thought, well, that doesn’t make sense. That can’t be possible,” Penny recalled. “As far as the film goes, it’s a strange universe. And the more you look into it, the stranger it seems. And I think this film did a great job of capturing some of the concepts of how things can be very strange compared to how we perceive them in the real world. In our daily lives, we often just don’t see these effects.”
And then there’s the all-bagel black hole.
“I have a few thoughts on the everything bagel,” Penny said. “First, toroidal (donut- or, in this case, bagel-shaped) black holes are possible. Second, it has long been believed that a black hole is characterized only by its mass, spin, and electrical charge. This is the “no hair” theorem. However, postulate is probably a better term for it since the evidence seems to be controversial. There is now a school of thought that keeps a black hole on its surface, information about what fell into the black hole. So the surface properties (of a black hole) potentially support whatever fell into the black hole.”
Which makes a black everything bagel a fitting representation of a black hole threatening to suck in everything from everywhere.
Penny’s last thoughts were, “Take it as fun. Accept it since there are these underlying serious questions about the interpretation of quantum mechanics, because it really does seem like the math of quantum mechanics does exist, even if it doesn’t seem reasonable. But that’s because it’s a weird universe to really get into.”
And it’s a weird and wonderful movie to get lost in this weekend, whether you want to contemplate quantum mechanics or just let it overwhelm you.