By Bradley Lane
The runaway success of this year’s awards season leading up to the Academy Awards has been the A24 produced Everything Everywhere All at Once. Racking up the most nominations at this year’s ceremony with a whooping 11, it isn’t hard to see why Academy voters love the film. In a space where film is recognized for its artistry there is a natural inclination to constrain what is honored into a very specific set of aesthetic rules. Oscar voters traditionally exclude genres and styles they find to be less serious than the straightforward dramas the Academy has built a reputation on celebrating. What the directing duo The Daniels managed to do with EEAAO is create a film that has the craft and emotionality of a prestige drama, with the aesthetics and storytelling elements designed to cater to mainstream audiences’ sensibilities. In doing so, they created what must be considered, at least culturally, a modern classic.
Part of what makes EEAAO special is its wildly silly premise from which it derives its emotion. In one universe of an endlessly vast multiverse, Evelyn Wong finds herself in middle age, in a loveless marriage and working herself to the bone to try and keep her struggling laundromat afloat. Along with a dysfunctional relationship to both her father and daughter, Evelyn is preparing for both a Lunar New Year party and an audit on her business by the IRS. Overwhelmed by her day-to-day life, Evelyn is plucked from her daily grind to learn she may be the only one person who might be able to stop an evil force that threatens to destroy the multiverse entirely.
Blending science fiction, comedy, action, absurdism, and dramatic elements, the film is exploding past the bounds of its two-hour runtime. The film suffers for this reason, as its first half setup requires a lot of exposition delivered in an easy-to-understand format, which leads to a bloated second half that is paced at a mile a minute. Despite this though, the film largely delivers on its outsized ambitions, delivering both on lowbrow laughs and thoughtful ruminations on modern existentialism and intergenerational trauma.
In hindsight the film really threads a needle between what critics look for in film and what mainstream audiences look for in entertainment. It’s a bit like hiding medicine in a sweet dessert; you get people in seats with the well-choreographed action and jokes and hook them with the thematic depth of the film.
This otherwise too wild for its own good film owes its accomplishments to the anchoring performances at its center. Without Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Kwan, and Stephanie Hsu, this film would immediately fly off the rails. It takes an incredible amount of buy-in from the performers and trust from the directors to have produced such grounded work in a story so objectively silly.
The humor may not always lend itself to benefit the work as a whole, and despite issues with its pacing, the emotional payoff at EEAAO’s core is too strong to ignore. Even without its recent re-release it has become A24’s most profitable film ever. If you missed this gem while it was in theaters earlier this year, you can catch it now back in theaters for a limited time or streaming on Showtime. – 4/5 stars