There are no perfect films, but damn does Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022) come close. Bringing uniquely upbeat existentialism (!) to its fast-paced skiffy adventure, it’s inventive, heartfelt, and absolutely absorbing, speaking powerfully to the modern zeitgeist even as it tackles timeless themes. Seriously, why haven’t you seen it yet? Stop reading this!
Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) is the exasperated, exhausted owner of a laundromat in Simi Valley, California. Things aren’t going well: she’s limping through a passionless marriage with Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), she has a fraught relationship with her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu), and the business is faltering. Against this mundane backdrop, Evelyn’s life is upended even more drastically when the family is summoned to the local IRS building by no-nonsense auditor Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis). Briefly inhabited by an alternate version of himself from another universe, Waymond informs Evelyn that the multiverse is in jeopardy, and that she’s the key to saving it. Evelyn is quick to dismiss this warning, until then the reality of it violently erupts, turning her life (and all of her lives) completely upside down.
Alternate realities are definitely in vogue these days, and why shouldn’t they be? They’re the perfect vehicle for coping with the litany of wrong choices we’ve made to arrive at this perilous moment in history. In the way it cinematically tackles the multiverse, though, Everything Everywhere All at Once is in a class of its own. This is just such a smart, fun, moving, robust, hilarious film, perfectly layering its big concept SF premise over a deeply personal story. As such, it’s a spectacular showcase for Yeoh, whose frustrated jack-of-no-trades protagonist is confronted with the vast multiplicity of other lives she could have led, then gradually learns to leverage the ridiculous “rules” of universe-hopping to battle the nihilistic onslaught of her terrifying, multiverse-attacking enemy. It’s one of those delightful films that manages to be both anarchic and controlled, its moments chaotic but its strategy precise. The result is a frenetic film providing just the right kind of emotional whiplash, swinging back and forth between heart-wrenching emotion to joyous absurdity. The best art makes sense of the world, even at its most dire and nonsensical; on this score, Everything Everywhere All at Once may well be the essential film of 2022.