Everything Everywhere All at Once
Written and directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. US, 2022, 139 minutes.
The multiverse is, without doubt, one of the most popular tropes in film lately. And while production giants are all trying to get a slice of this cake, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert surprised the world with Everything Everywhere All at Once.
Directed and written by Kwan and Scheinert, also known as the Daniels, the film tells a story about a Chinese American immigrant who runs a laundromat saving the world using powers from the multiverse. It stars Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsu, and Jamie Lee Curtis.
A hit with audiences and critics alike, E.E.A.A.O. got Rotten Tomatoes ratings as high as 97% from both the Tomatometer and fans. And on April 5, the movie officially became the highest-rated movie of all time on Letterboxd.
“It’s embarrassing,” said Kwan in response to the good news from Letterboxd. “It’s almost like we sent each other a video that we thought was funny, and then it went viral. That’s what it feels like.”
During its limited release in New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, it grossed over half a million dollars, breaking A24’s opening record of the year. In fact, the movie has become A24’s best launch since Uncut Gems and one of its best ever. So far, according to Gold Derby, the movie has already brought in $1.8 million, despite only being in 36 theaters. “It broke into the top 10 despite being in 1,000 fewer theaters than any other movie in the top 10.”
E.E.A.A.O. premiered in Boston on March 28 at The Coolidge Corner Theatre as part of Independent Film Festival Boston’s in-person screening series. The event was co-presented by the Boston Asian-American Film Festival—which has also recently resumed its in-person screening sessions.
The screening was followed by a Q&A session with the Daniels, where they shared their sources of inspiration and journey in making this film as a filmmaking duo. According to Kwan, part of the reason he got the idea of making a multiverse film was the influence of The Matrix. Although Scheinert said they were also fascinated by the concept of creating a “scary” multiverse.
“If you believe there are literally an infinite number then cause and effect breaks down, free will breaks down,” said Scheinert. “[C]ould we go to full blown nihilism in a movie, and then pull the audience back and give them a hug? What would that look like?”
The idea of telling an immigrant-centered story also became a big inspiration. Kwan expressed his excitement about having a piece of his heritage in his work because stories about immigrants weren’t marketable for so long.
“By then, when we were writing it, putting a Chinese immigrant family in the center of a Hollywood movie was about as absurd as talking rocks and hot dog hands,” said Kwan. “But I was like, I think I’m ready to finally put Chinese people in our movies.”
Daniels also talked about the movie being a reaction to the environment of 2016 when Donald Trump started to run for president. Kwan said that the film is reacting to the chaos in society, where people would be scrolling through social media and laughing, crying, and being angry at the same time.
“What’s really scary about sustaining life for the past few years is we’ve all gone numb. And that’s a terrible place for us to be right now when we should be really active, and really engaged, and really holding each other,” said Kwan. “And this movie, you know, in some ways was us trying to show ourselves how to get out of the chaos and out of that numbness.”
One reason that the movie is such a big hit is because of Michelle Yeoh’s excellent performance. Given her extensive experience as an actor in martial arts adventures to holiday rom-coms, it seems like the movie could not work without her. And that is true.
In an interview with GQ, Yeoh was very positive about the role, “This is something I have been waiting for a long time, that’s going to give me the opportunity to show my fans, my family, my audience what I’m capable of.”
From Crazy Rich Asians to Shang-Chi, to Turning Red, and now Everything Everywhere All At Once, Yeoh, along with all the Asian creators and artists, has proven that stories with diverse narratives can be just as successful with audiences as traditional Hollywood movies. Although whether the film is genuinely better than Parasite or The Godfather is up for personal interpretation, the movie certainly shows the potential in unconventional stories and the power of representation.