Everything Everywhere All at Once

Everything Everywhere All at Once ★★★★★

As much as I would like to declare that films of this quality would be the norm for blockbusters if maximalist works weren’t allowed to fail in the aughts, I think that would severely discount the absolute mastery exhibited here.

I think about the Daniels pretty often, and I think a lot of that has to do with their worldview and aesthetic sensibilities regarding art. Swiss Army Man was a work that confused me immediately after watching for reasons unknown, which I further was able to understand when considering the way they present humor is not ironic but rather humanistic and surprisingly confrontational. This allowed me to get a lot out of The Death of Dick Long, even if the duo was only working with half power, and it has since become a film I think about almost daily due to its staunch disagreement with treating “weird” people through a lens of cruelty for humor’s sake. While many of this duo’s critics lambast their works for supposed irony, and even more surprising amount of their fans love them for the exact same interpretation. It seems as though treating subjects such as parts and processes of the human body, Nickelback, and Southern accents with any amount of respect along with their peculiar sense of humor is something impossible and must be done as some kind of bit, one where these things are the punchline and not a way to explore humanity.

While these two aforementioned works are flawed, I am not so sure I can say the same about Everything Everywhere All At Once. It seems as though the Daniels attempt to dispell this accusation head-on by making one of the most vehemently and confrontationally life-affirming works of art ever created. Every single character goes through an arc that, in isolation, would be enough to carry a movie not nearly as good to being worth remembering, and yet we receive 3, arguably 4, of the most realized character journeys ever to be explored. While there is a lot of emotional ground that overlaps these storylines because of the inherent familial relationships these characters share, each person is allowed their own nuanced and complete arc that complement each other but also reinforce themselves. For as many absolutely insane scenes this film has written into them, there is a surprising amount of restraint in the form of not only disallowing the plot from falling into the tides of tropes and contrivances. This is further supplemented through true transcendence of cliché by blending deep-cutting seriousness and sentimentality with equal parts hilarity and absurdism, a cocktail notably lacking irony and cynicism that would be all too easy to add to distance oneself from the self.

Another one of the biggest ways this understanding of people is achieved is through a refusal to include small bits that solely exist for a laugh. I think it’s pretty easy to fall into this kind of writing when your main plot device is an infinite number of universes where everything that could have possibly happened has indeed happened, but this is a pitfall that is avoided literally every chance it threatens to rear its ugly head. There are several bits in here that are funny on their own, called back to in a clever way, and then put on a shelf for just long enough for you to forget about before it is eventually re-called back to further explore when the time is right to mirror and complement the main plot. While MAYBE one or two out-of-place utilitarian shots exist to explain a handful of these call-back directly to the audience, it only calls into attention the amount of many more important things being left for the audience to grapple with on their own, recontextualizing themselves as primers of thought and engagement. This respect for film and the people who watch them extends to explicit homages to filmmaking genres that borrow as much from the greats as they do expand laterally upon them, with the exploration of romance and action films being the most satisfying to me.

From a technical standpoint, I have absolutely no idea how this grandiose balancing act was able to be maintained for as long as it was. Every single performance kills it in exactly the way they are meant to and then some, every single shot, cut, and edit feels purposeful without sacrificing pacing, and there is a healthy amount of experimentation thrown in for good measure as well. For the number of scenes that must have been reshot to explore some kind of alternate universe, one would think they would show a handful of scenes in a different directing style or shot on 16mm for a handful of them and discard this method of creation, but this is never really the case. Shoddy handheld film and primitive camcorder scenes almost seem to equal out the amount of intense, gleaming digital ones that can range from as bombastic and as still as they possibly can be by the end of the movie. Several of the most effective scenes to me were entirely still or entirely in motion, something that cannot be easy to pull off in a meaningful and thematic a fashion as the Daniels seemingly effortlessly did.

I’ve been trying to avoid any kind of thematic interpretations here since this film is so new and I think everyone on Earth should see it as blindly as possible. The marketing for this film and even its own title gives away what to expect, and going into this with those expectations is cleverly and astoundingly made part of the artistry. I think even if you (somehow) dislike this as a whole product, there will be at least SOMETHING worth attaching yourself to no matter which walk of life you are taking, something that is beautifully explored in the central conflict between Evelyn and Joy. I really enjoy movies where nihilist methods of thinking are expunged from the minds of the characters, and this is no exception, but I have never really seen a film explore the reasoning behind why people attach themselves to this method of thinking this deeply in a long time. This feeds into the way that the film frames its ultimate triumph over such a destructive force of humanity in a way that is as affecting at it is empathetic.

This is a truly astounding work of art that, even after about a day of sitting with it, still feels hard to pin down exactly why I think it affects me as much as it does. Releasing during the popularity in crossover multiverses and The Age of Multi-Format Canonicity only elevates how truly important this film feels. Everyone involved in this film makes it look easy, creating an endlessly maximalist work of sheer excitement that complements its tender but never more muted aspects of itself so perfectly. I knew the Daniels had it in them to make something even better than their last two works, but I really was not expecting them to go as absolutely nuclear as they did with this one, creating a meta work that truly is for everyone. An absolutely transcendent film that challenges as much as it rewards, and one that anyone will get something out of.

There was actually a professional film critic in the crowd during this IMAX showing I went to, which is definitely the best way to experience something as huge as this (in IMAX not with a pro critic). How do I know this? Well, he made sure to let everyone in the theater know by not only speaking loudly to the uninterested person next to him, but also by blocking 1 of 3 exit doors after the movie finished so he could record a handful of weak first-impressions including “I didn’t NOT get it….I’d just need to see it again is all”, presumably to preface a middling review of one of the greatest films to ever exist. Even though miniscule and indirect, my interactions with this critic had me thinking a lot about objectivity in criticism. I seriously don’t understand how someone who takes themselves so seriously like that could come away from something like this and just think “yeah, that was OK”.

What could this film have possibly done better? Or better yet, how can you possibly make yourself better?

Block or Report