ROME – Framed and hung on the wall of director Daniel Kwan’s office in Highland Park is a work: History of Rise and Fall by Japanese artist Ikeda Manabu. It is an elaborate pen drawing depicting a swirl of pagodas, gnarled cherry branches and railroad tracks: «They give me a headache to look at.” Kwan explained, «because they are very intricate, ultra-detailed and full of information. Moving away from it, however, you can distinguish the details, and at one point you discover a tree». Why do we say this? Because when in 2016 Kwan and his directorial partner Daniel Scheinert (aka the Daniels) started working on Everything Everywhere All At Once, the film was as close to chaos as Manabu’s work seen up close. A maddeningly complicated diagram on a wall-wide blackboard depicting more than a dozen color-coded subplots and squiggles of randomly thrown ideas.
Then, during the promotional tour of that little masterpiece of sheer brilliance by Swiss Army Man – A multipurpose friend with the couple Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe (film that is always too little talked about), the Daniels imagined Everything Everywhere All At Once (here to read our review) as a sci-fi film on the Multiverse in the form of an existential-nihilistic nightmare in which to throw in a colorful skein of ideas and filmic suggestions of all kinds – from matrix And In the Mood for Love to 2001: A Space Odyssey And Fight Club – and fingers at hot dogs, sentient pebbles reflecting on existence, and even a parody of Ratatouille with a raccoon instead of Pixar’s mouse. When the first executive draft was drawn up, there was only one huge problem: «It looks like a 100 million dollar movie, you have to rewrite it!».
At the same time, the Multiverse in cinema and seriality was gaining more and more ground so that, when Spider-Man: Into a New Universe peeped into the collective imagination in 2018 up to the Oscar for best animated film, Kwan was blown away: «It’s shocking! Everyone is going to beat us on something we’ve been working on for eight years!». The same goes for Rick & Morty and of that second season which laid the linguistic-narrative foundations of the Multiverse as we know it today: «Watching him was painful, frustrating. I discovered that they had already implemented all the ideas that we thought were original». Last but not least, here are also the recent developments of Marvel and DC, or of the Multiverse as a narrative justification for the coexistence of multiple universes and variants. Unlike Everything Everywhere All At Once however, none of these projects could be defined thus: «A film about a woman who has to file a tax return».
Yes, because that’s how the riddle recited logline official that circulated at the time of pre-production. A woman who in theory, in the original plans of Everything Everywhere All At Once, it should have been a man: Jackie Chan to be exact, only that way the script didn’t work. We needed a woman as the protagonist and not a random one: Michelle Yeoh. The same Yeoh who, ironically, the day after her coronation as Miss Malaysia 1983, made her debut in the entertainment world in an advertisement with Jackie Chan with whom she will then share the screen in the unforgettable Police Story 3: Supercop. Always linked by a deep friendship, in a 1997 interview he said about it: «He’s a chauvinist pig, we’re very good friends and I often tell him to his face. He believes women should just stay home and cook. Except me, he says now, because he knows I can kick his ass..».
«A woman and her tax return»: no, it’s not exactly wrong to define it like this Everything Everywhere All At Once, so as to represent the gist of the concept, its essence and then this is exactly how the story opens and this is how we get to know Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), the intolerant owner of a laundromat who lives in a cramped apartment above the activity and which awaits a mountain of paperwork to fill out due to an audit by the tax agency, the IRS. Evelyn worries about the arrival of her elderly father (James Hong) and is unable to listen to either her eldest daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) or sensitive husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan). Upon meeting an IRS clerk (Jamie Lee Curtis), a strange occurrence related to her husband thrusts her into a multidimensional adventure in which the fate of all universes rests in her hands.
According to Scheinert: «You could say it’s a kung-fu movie set in various multidimensional universes. A film that talks about the generation gap, the Internet and the latent terror that accompanies life in the modern era, where there are family, science fiction and philosophical elements inside». More dry in his reflection Kwan according to which – especially in function of the climax in which i Daniels have spotted that metaphorical tree they have been looking for all their careers – Everything Everywhere All At Once and more: «Yes, uA film about a mother who learns to listen to her family in the midst of utter chaos…». Heavy, intense words that live from Kwan’s life experience and his family past: «Evelyn looks a lot like my mother, the kind of mother who is overburdened with things to do all at once and can’t devote herself entirely to any of them.».
Work at Everything Everywhere All At Once allowed Kwan to better understand his mother, to look at her in a new light of understanding, but above all to better express his creativity as Danielswhose input is fired in the aftermath of a double-bill Matrix Fight Club at the New Beverly Theater by Quentin Tarantino: «These movies entertain in a visceral way. We wanted to transpose that kind of energy and sense of fulfillment that you get when you look at them in a context of love and understanding. We didn’t know how to do it, but we wanted to bring something like this to the big screen that had meaning but was also personal». Hence the need to respond to the needs of the present, of our time: «We wanted to address with this film the feeling that everything is happening at the same time, that anxiety about living in the modern world, how do you put that in a meaningful way in a story?».
Seven years after that chaotic mess on the blackboard and the success of Crazy & Rich crucial in convincing i Daniels to stake everything on a predominantly Asian cast – and in which, ironically, Yeoh towered above all for acting intensity – here is finally the film rendering of a Everything Everywhere All At Once playful, crazy, only apparently indecipherable, which after a first act that sees the stakes mature exponentially, however engulfed, in the rhythm, by the need for world building and of making the viewer aware of the few guidelines of the narrative context, see in the second act i Daniels trigger the fuse of a deadly combative allegory made of kung-fu and multidimensional leaps populated by very solidly directed scenic connections and made pure magic by an Oscar-worthy editing: incisive, clear-cut, capable of generating harmonic geometries in its multi-level narrative development.
The best is yet to come though. Because in that sense of cognitive overload resulting from a journey of the heroine in the fragmentary and infinite Multiverse of Everything Everywhere All At Oncei Daniels make the most of the excellent typicality of their concept by unleashing a textbook arc of transformation – colorful, rich in nuances, vivid – which in the three-dimensional engraving of a narrative that sees a development that is now linear in its rational progress, now transversal – in breadth – between parallel worlds, leads Evelyn to better understand (and appreciate) herself and those around her, up to that climatic black bagel filled with depression, annihilation, generational traumas, misunderstanding and pure pain, to be faced in the only way that life knows how to teach us, with understanding and kindness: «We all struggle every day because we are confused. The only thing I know is to be kind, especially when we don’t know what’s going on».
For a Everything Everywhere All At Once which – like its narration which grows at a distance until it explodes in all its colorful warmth in the third act – knows how to grow inside as a beautiful emotion, like love when it is sincere, giving us a precious universal lesson on the unexpected oddities of destiny, on choices, on the value of time and never looking back and on the power of empathy in a world like the modern one: chaotic, frenetic, sometimes incomprehensible. Needless to say, an instant-cult destined for the immortality of time, as well as a sensational commercial success with its 104 million dollars world-wide (against a budget of just 14 and a half) which made the fortunes of IAC Films and Gozie AGBO as well as A24 which handled the global distribution and our local I Wonder Pictures for the Italian one.
An immortality enriched with meaning, as well as an extraordinary Yeoh, dal coming back by Ke Huy Quan on which a separate chapter should be opened where Everything Everywhere All At Once it is an end and (new) beginning. A difficult role that of his Waymond, with a dual dimension of character loving husband/hero of the Multiverse, who in blending perfectly with the histrionic Yeoh, marks the return to the scene of the ex-child prodigy admired among Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom And The Goonies. Because in reality Quan had never left. Fed up with racial stereotypes, he preferred to stay in the background working as stunt coordinator and assistant directorThe One, 2046), this until the vision of Crazy & Richeverything changed there: «I saw that movie and told myself that if I ever wanted to go back to acting then now would be the right time because things had changed for us Asians“, The rest is recent history.
The exploit in the awards zone then, with his 260 wins out of 391 nominations that saw him triumph at the Golden Globes in the categories of Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical (Michelle Yeoh) and Best Supporting Actor (Ke Huy Quan) – and next to amaze at the night of the Oscars 2023 with its eleven nominations and the label of «Opponent to beat» – if you think about it, they shouldn’t be too surprising. A small movie Everything Everywhere All At Once, perhaps without the immense blockbuster vision of Avatar – The way of waterof Spielberg’s cinephile soul The Fabelmans or the sparkling dialogical rigor de The spirits of the islandbut with a big heart of pure cinema which makes it – rather than the surprise – the certainty of the film season and perhaps, who knows, the film of the year, certainly a work we can no longer do without.
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Below you can see the trailer of the film:
Everything Everywhere All At Once | Life, the Multiverse and everything