Everything Everywhere All at Once (EEAO), commits to its tongue-twisting title. It’s a smorgasbord of genres and filmmaking styles that’s just as messy as it is entertaining.
The film stars Michelle Yeoh as Evelyn Wang, a laundromat owner in the midst of multiple crises. On the brink of financial ruin, Evelyn is pulled into a multiverse adventure by an alternate version of her husband (Ke Huy Quan).
The film is strongest when grounded in reality. The first forty-five minutes set up an intriguing conflict where Evelyn constantly tries to appease everyone around her. The directors — Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert — effectively use the language barrier as a comedic tool and to represent emotional distance between characters.
The Daniels play around with a mile-a-minute sense of editing, throwing characters into unrelated environments in rapid succession. Many of these sequences utilize aspect ratio shifts, an editing method which shifts the frame between shots. Depending on their tolerance for visual experimentation, viewers will either find these engaging or irritating.
The multiverse action is amusing, but bogged down by explanation to advance the plot. Oftentimes, it is best to let the audience understand the science fiction by showing it. Some exposition is acceptable — especially in parts of this film, where the protagonist discovers her world’s mysteries alongside the audience. However, the film lets this go on far too long; explanation even leaks into much of the film’s third act.
EEAO is indebted to a long line of other films. Though cinema is an inherently referential medium, references work best when they are invisible, or when they build upon the original material in a meaningful way. EEAO brandishes its influences on its sleeve, modeling fight scenes directly after classic Chinese martial-art films. However, EEAO fails to draw emotion out of these callbacks and instead hopes to incite nostalgia. This does not kill the movie, but points to a problem in the film industry where laziness feeds the hunger for innovation.
Elijah Davis is a film student at University of Southern California. You can find more of his reviews @davismoviereviews on Instagram.