“A story about the multiverse that explores generational trauma and is set in an IRS office” reads like the world’s worst comedy-improv prompt. In actuality, it’s the premise behind “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” (EEAAO) A24’s latest sci-fi adventure film. Directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (the team behind Swiss Army Man), “EEAAO” opened in theaters on March 30, and has gained notoriety for its masterful chaos.
Evelyn Wang (played by Michelle Yeoh) is a middle-aged Chinese immigrant woman suffocating under the weight of her failing laundromat business, the growing divide separating her from her husband (Ke Huy Quan) and daughter (Stephanie Tsu), and the glaring disappointment of her father (James Hong).
While filing taxes, she is suddenly visited by a familiar face that claims that she is the only one capable of saving the multiverse. Almost instantaneously, she transforms into a warrior that can channel the abilities of her many alternate selves. As she blows through opponents and hones her powers, she is challenged to confront the state of her relationships in order to defeat a nihilistic force lording over the multiverse.
“EEAAO” is many things “all at once”, such as a speculative commentary on technology, a romance spanning lifetimes, and a love letter to ‘80s martial arts movies. The film accomplishes everything it sets out to do by following one rule: to never take itself completely seriously. Scenes that peer into Yeoh’s emotional depth are often spliced between (or occur during) moments of comedic brevity, the likes of which reference hot dog fingers, “Ratatouille,” and a gravely-significant everything bagel. Similarly, even the movie’s most absurd moments carry weight: look out for a scene about two rocks that will rip your heart out. In a sea of sober releases like “The Batman,” “EEAAO” offers viewers the chance to have fun.
While it jumps between genres, “EEAAO” is grounded in its relatable thematic focus. Wang’s struggles with family conflict and regret saturate the film at every turn, until her interpersonal issues become indistinguishable from the crumbling multiverse around her. In addition, her related identities as a woman, an immigrant, and as a Chinese person are treated as integral to her transformation into a hero – Hollywood has been waiting for a sci-fi protagonist like her.
The family dynamic delivered by Yeoh, Quan, and Tse’s all-too-relatable performances to first-generation and Asian American viewers, makes the film’s busy world seem within reach. Those coming into “EEAAO” expecting to be whisked away will be pleased to return to these present realities and find magic in them.
“EEAAO” is impossible to pin down and impossible to forget. Laugh-out-loud moments come just as often as teary ones. It’s now streaming on Prime Video; experience it for yourself.