It’s hard to fit “Everything Everywhere All At Once” into one review. But if you take away just one thing, let it be that Michelle Yeoh kicks ass and this film is 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”), done period dramas ("The Soong Sisters”) and been a Bond girl (“Tomorrow Never Dies”). But no American film has yet given her a starring role to showcase her talents. Until now and A24's "Everything Everywhere All At Once."
The 59-year-old Hong Kong action superstar finally has her American breakthrough film to display not just her martial arts skills, but her dramatic chops and precision comic timing.
Yeoh plays Evelyn Wang who starts the film with IRS problems that escalate 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 “Goonies”) informs her that the future of the multiverse depends on her. That’s a lot of pressure placed on Evelyn whose laundromat is in financial crises, whose daughter (Stephanie Hsu) is full of anger and angst, whose husband wants a divorce, and whose father just arrived from China (played by James Hong). But apparently, Evelyn’s skill for failing at everything might just make her the perfect superhero to save the world.
I could tell you everything that happens in the film and you still would have no sense of what it’s about. You simply have to go and experience it.
Written and directed by the Daniels – individually known 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 did 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 gives the film an anchoring humanity that makes us care even though the universe tells us that nothing matters. The Daniels bring us to the brink of total annihilation, but then find a way to make us feel okay with that.
There’s a kind of alchemy at work, as well as physics, and both combine to deliver a film that is just wildly entertaining. It constantly exposes us to sensory overload, but it also displays so much heart and humor that we just feel joyfully intoxicated as we leave the theater.
That heart and humor comes from Yeoh and ever 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 goes from frumpy to glamorous, beaten down to triumphant, bewildered to confident. She gets to play every emotion and hit almost every note an actress could ask for. She also gets to tangle with Jamie Lee Curtis’ hilarious IRS auditor. There is 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 bit enlightened. But one thing is clear: Michelle Yeoh is a force to be reckoned with. And hopefully this film by the Daniels will wake Hollywood up to what Yeoh is capable of, so she can get some more showcase roles.
Some thoughts from 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 a few of his thoughts since the film playfully engages in ideas about the multiverse and black holes (in this case represented by an everything bagel).
To start, Robert Penny explained, “Physics is really about trying to model and predict. There is the world around us; things have been observed and physicists over the years have made mathematical models of things to try and explain. I think philosophical questions physics has been trying to resolve for a long, long time is this sense of the real world that we have around us compared to the way that we know that on the microscale the universe seems to function and we can mathematically very well predict the way that atoms behave in this quantum mechanical behavior. But how do we carry the consequences of this up to the real world? And the universe doesn't have to behave that way all the way down and all the way up. But as Einstein said, ‘common sense is that set of prejudices we've acquired by the age of 18.”
Life as the film shows, is hard to predict and is not easy to explain. The film suggests that every time someone makes a decision, there’s a split in which that person’s life heads off into two different trajectories, thus creating a multiverse (something long popular in comics and science fiction). The movie makes no pretense about dealing seriously with science in any sense, but it serves up some food for thought. Take a hilarious moment reenacting the famous ape scene from “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
“In the multiverse interpretation, where they go all the way back to the ‘2001’ Dawn of Man, where evolution goes in a different direction, that is absolutely beautiful,” Penny noted. “But if the multiverse is happening, then that's a lot of different possibilities to keep packing in this universe. So that was one of the things that was touched on as the main theme in ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once' movie, the possibility of other possibilities splitting off. In some sense, it's all one universe, but we go and ride with one direction and the other possibility which we can't see goes off in another direction with another existence. So the universe is this evolving quantum mechanical state.”
And that’s one of the things that makes your head spin. Penny suggested checking out the Universe Splitter app to go along with 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 was just like, well, that doesn't make sense. That can't possibly be,” Penny recalled. “As far as the movie is concerned, it's a strange universe. And the more you dig into it, the stranger it seems. And I think that movie just beautifully captured some of the concepts of how things can be very strange compared to our real world perception. In the day to day lives that we live, we often just don't see those effects.”
And then there’s the everything bagel black hole.
“I do have some thoughts on the everything bagel,” Penny said. “Firstly, toroidal (donut or in this case bagel shaped) black holes are possible. Second, for a long time it was thought that a black hole was only characterized by its mass, its spin, and its electrical charge. This is the ‘no hair’ theorem. Postulate is probably a better term for it though, because it seems the proofs have been disputed. There's now a school of thought that a black hole retains on its surface, information about what has fallen into the black hole. So the surface characteristics (of a black hole) do potentially carry everything that was falling into the black hole.”
Which makes a black everything bagel a fitting representation of a black hole that threaten to suck everything everywhere in.
Penny’s final thoughts were: “Take it as fun. Take it as there are these underlying serious questions about how to interpret quantum mechanics because it really seems like the mathematics of quantum mechanics holds out even when it doesn't seem to make common sense. But that’s because it’s a strange universe when you really dig into it.”
And it’s a strange and wonderful film to get lost in this weekend whether you want to think about quantum mechanics or just let it wash over you.