I was going to wait until I had seen a second film so I could do two films in one post, but you know what, I can’t wait. Because I love every last thing about this film.
I love the film itself – the completely bonkers imagery, the off-the-wall humor, the completely original ideas – and how the zaniness then gives way to a serious, poignant, and profound message about human connection. I love how the cast and crew all seem to have taken the film’s message of kindness and community to heart. I especially love how it’s given nearly everyone involved a shot at critical recognition – in some cases, recognition that has long been overdue.
Trying to explain this film makes you sound slightly insane, or at least highly caffeinated. Michelle Yeoh plays Evelyn Wang, a bored and frustrated Chinese woman running a laundromat in the US with her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) and daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu). Things aren’t going well – her disapproving father (James Hong) is visiting, Joy recently came out as a lesbian and Evelyn’s still not used to that, and they’re being audited by the IRS. But then, while the IRS agent is in the middle of grilling them over their expenses (Jamie Lee Curtis plays the agent, who has the delightful name “Deirdre Beaubeirdre”), Waymond suddenly pulls her into a closet (or seems to) and gives her some shocking news – he’s actually a version of Waymond from a parallel universe temporarily taking this Waymond over to ask her help. There are a number of such parallel universes, he says, and in one of them, an alternate version of Joy has created a sort of black hole that threatens to destroy the entire multiverse. And he has determined that this universe’s version of Evelyn is best qualified to stop her, by tapping into the skills and abilities of each of the other Evelyns scattered throughout the myriad parallel universes – even the ones where she’s a rock.
That’s all just in the first ten minutes. And the two hours following are completely bonkers – Waymond fights off a team of security guards using a fanny pack as a lariat, Evelyn learns that the “black hole” the alternate Joy made started out as a literal “everything bagel”, there’s a martial-arts fight involving butt plugs, Randy Newman has a cameo as a talking raccoon, there’s a universe where humans developed to have hot dogs for fingers. It’s thoroughly ridiculous, and directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert expertly walk the tricky tightrope between explaining things just enough for you to follow along, but not too much that you get bogged down in detail; the details they throw into each scene are exactly spot-on. (There is a very brief flashback sequence showing how the “hot dog finger” universe developed; I already loved the fact that it was a clear 2001 Space Odyssey homage, but what really won me over was the music: some guys playing “Thus Sprach Zarathrusta” on kazoos.)
And then The Daniels (as they call themselves) go on to add something even more to the film – an enormous, warm heart. Alternate-universe Joy reveals she’s just about as unhappy as her own Joy, and her “everything bagel” may be rooted in a self-hating nihilism. If everything is possible in every universe, then nothing matters, right? But then alternate-universe Waymond offers a counter-argument – even if it were true that nothing matters on a grand scale, finding joy and spreading kindness would still work on a smaller scale. So why not be kind? It was that message that prompted me to recommend this to my mother, who usually isn’t one for sci-fi, martial arts, or super-complex narratives; I hedged my bets by giving her a very brief explanation of modal realism as well. I was expecting to watch this with my parents while visiting over Thanksgiving – so I could pause to explain things when necessary – only to find that my explanation had fascinated Mom so much that she gave it a go, and loved it just as much, and for all the same reasons.
One of the biggest reasons this works – and one of the best choices The Daniels made – was in the casting, especially for Waymond. Prior to this, Ke Huy Quan was best known as a child actor in the 1980s, playing “Short Round” in the Temple Of Doom Indiana Jones film and “Data” in The Goonies. But he aged out of being a child actor at a time when roles for Asian actors were very thin on the ground, and ultimately he got sick of the lack of options and quit acting for nearly 30 years. In 2018, the success of Crazy Rich Asians gave him hope that Hollywood had changed a bit, and decided to give his childhood dream another go – and only two weeks after he got an agent, The Daniels invited him to audition for Waymond. Dan Kwan later said that he was the first and only person they read for the part – realizing instantly that “he is Waymond. He’s a sweetheart who is just full of joy, who just wants to play, who just wants to welcome you into that energy.” Some of the sweetest viral videos you can find these days are clips of Quan gushing over his change of fortune – in interviews on the late-night talk show circuit, in “roundtable chats” with other notable actors, and most recently, in the flood of acceptance speeches he’s been making. And while he has occasionally been candid about how he was disappointed at having to put things on pause, he has been far and away more grateful that he is finally being acknowledged again, and celebrating former colleagues as well (this photo of his reunion with Harrison Ford at a fan convention is one of the sweetest things you will ever see).
Everyone in the film world seems to be rallying behind Quan; but even better is, that’s not the only case of the Everything Everywhere cast celebrating one of its own. Several people have shared this photo of Jamie Lee Curtis whooping in delight when Michelle Yeoh won a Golden Globe for Best Actress. And reportedly, the cast and crew all got on a group video chat to watch yesterday’s Oscar nominations; Quan later said that each time someone in their squad was nominated, everyone jumped and cheered. Which must have been a lot of cheering, since this film leads the pack with eleven nominations. Every main actor received a nomination, and for every actor, it is a career-first nomination. It’s also up for best picture, best director, costume design, editing, original song, original score and original screenplay. And honestly, I hope I’m living in the universe where they sweep everything.