Everything Everywhere All at Once (Review)

Rarely has a title been more appropriate. This genre hopping, maximalist masterpiece truly does leave the viewer like they’ve just seen everything everywhere all at once. It is an overwhelming experience, both during and after, but a superlative one also. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll think and you’ll feel. Truly, it is everything that you want blockbuster filmmaking to be.

It feels odd to classify the film as a blockbuster, but in scale and sheer cinematic audacity, it certainly is. Don’t let the relatively modest budget put you off. This is a beautiful film that dines out on scale, with such well honed cinematic craft that it towers above movies that dwarf its budget. It is a consistent exercise in how did this get made? A feast of boundless creativity that constantly astonishes the viewer, even as mere spectacle. Somehow, and somewhere, multiverse movies became the deal of the day. Until now, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was the gold standard; that aside, films that do promise you everything, the possibility of everywhere (and perhaps the sensation of it all at once) uniformly disappoint. At the moment, you could go watch three different palette swaps of New York with Doctor Strange, a film that promises open ended possibility, but delivers consistent constraints. Or, you could watch Everything Everywhere All at Once, a film that fully takes advantage of the infinity at the core of its premise.

So rarely does a film consistently surprise, this does. The more you see, the more formulaic wider cinema feels. This film is a breath of fresh air. The core conceit, a character lives a doldrums existence until they are shown that there is a whole wider world out there (beyond their previous understanding) that they are fated to save: you’ve seen this before. But, this familiar premise is used as an accessible route into endless possibility, and endearing unfamiliarity. This is of a piece with the rest of the film, though, a film so large and bold that works as well as it does because of how intimate and grounded it is. At every point, this is a film about people and their close relationships. It is about spousal relationships, wider romantic relationships, parental relationships, our relationships to ourselves and the everyday experiences we all have. A sense of cinematic familiarity only plays into this, as it is a film that can only afford to be as wild and mind-melting as it is because it speaks to shared experiences: both human and cinematic. It’s also a film that deploys extended gags about Pixar movies, and a lengthy homage to Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love. But it does this in a way that is unreliant on these as reference points. It rewards familiarity and a love of cinema, cinema of all kinds, but is never merely rote imitation.

Oddly, despite being a maximalist, sci-fi epic, a kung-fu epic and a hilarious comedy, the film is reminiscent of the work of Yasujiro Ozu. Hear me out. Though it is completely formally dissimilar, it has the same structural elegance, and is able to present everything through the prism of the family. Yes, we hop through the multi-verse, but the real lessons are familially derived. And, like Ozu, this has the otherwise unparalleled ability to spread itself out so widely, only to bring everything back together, while never feeling too conventional or artificial. It does feel strange to say Everything Everywhere All at Once has the same narrative and structural elegance as 1951’s Early Summer… But it does. Truly great cinema intersects in fascinating ways, using all kind of approaches to unveil ecstatic truths.

These wide reaching comparisons are merely indicative of how unique the work is. Of how bold an achievement it is. It is so easy to just ladle on overt praise. The film’s score is so beautifully in conversation with the wider film, bursting with creativity and excellently underscoring every moment. The action sequences are dynamic, imaginative and exciting. The realisations of multiple universes are uniformly (or perhaps universally) brilliant. The film’s narrative beats are also so well handled. A witty script is well weaponised to make a whole host of exposition feel fun as anything. It has the free-wheeling feel of a work on the edge of control whilst also being so brilliantly precise. There is so much going on here, so much to take in. But it never overwhelms the film. The rules of this world are logically, and entertainingly setup, then they are just deployed. But, it also falls back a lot on the idea of infinity, allowing it to transcend its own logical frameworks with audacious energy. It is a mischievous work, a playfully rebellious one, that seems to setup rules just so that it can break them. And this is amazing, especially as the film as a whole is about living beyond expectation and embracing the joys of life beyond its prosaic and constricting structures.

At the heart of everything, though, is Michelle Yeoh. She is able to take on the promise of the title while always staying grounded. In her performance, and in her character, though, is the real brilliance of the film. This far-reaching and ambitious work is ambitious in ways you wouldn’t expect. It builds towards a message of unbounded positivity. It is a film about doing good recklessly. But, even when it is tying itself into the clean bow of a cogent message, it doesn’t sand things down. It is able to clearly communicate to its audience without constraining its characters, without making them mere narrative pieces. At the end, our characters are still flawed, they may even be objectionable. Because, the universal message exists in extension to these characters, and they feel real. That’s why it works. We are messy, we are flawed and we will continue to crash through lives making mistakes. We will continue to not notice the beauty and importance around us. We will descend into nihilism. And the film understands this impulse, even if it rejects these elements.

We can be part of things that are bigger than ourselves, that are better than ourselves. We are at the centre of everything, everywhere all at once. It doesn’t revolve around only us, but we are still our own centres. The sheer weight of expectation and possibility is so much, perhaps too much, but everything is nothing more than a collection of somethings. For everything to exist every thing must matter. We are all part of this bigger picture and this anarchic, maximalist wrecking ball of a movie reminds us of the importance of merely existing, and what to do with that honour. This is not the story of a lone saviour, of a chosen one. This the small story of realisation, of trying to become a better person. Yes, we could be so much, but we are what we are. So we must make the most of it. This film finds such creativity and energy from such simplicity because we are beings of such potential. And we don’t only matter through narrow conceptions of success. This is the kind of film that you leave feeling different, you leave looking at the world in a different way. You leave open to everything everywhere, and yes, all at once. Because movies can be this good and things this transcendent spiral out of the most unremarkable places. It’s truly inspiring.

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