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Emerging talent (Stephanie Hsu)

From directing duo Daniel Kwan and Daniel Schreinert comes a fresh take on the multiverse concept. Anchored by a strong cast of veterans (Michelle Yeoh, James Hong, Jamie Lee Curtis), emerging talent (Stephanie Hsu) and reemerging talent (Ke Huy Quan, back onscreen after two decades behind the camera), Everything Everywhere All At Once asks some of life’s big questions and finds answers in surprising, delightful ways.

Known collectively as Daniels (plural, no article), the directors have been collaborating since they met in college, progressing from award-winning, viral music videos to their feature debut Swiss Army Man (2016), best known for Daniel Radcliffe’s turn as a farting corpse. Juxtaposed with the latter, Everything Everywhere is not only not that weird, but it actually kind of makes sense. (Although, with that said, humans have evolved to have hot dogs as fingers in one of the film’s universes).

The premise of Daniels’ multiverse is that every single decision, no matter how big or small, leads to a branching of one’s life story, and so each individual has an almost infinite amount of potential selves across different universes. At the center of this complex web of possibility is the Wang family: Evelyn (Yeoh), Waymond (Quan), daughter Eleanor (Hsu) and patriarch Gong Gong (Hong). Whereas the Evelyn and Waymond in the present world lead a humdrum life revolving around a dead marriage, a failing family business under audit, and clashes with their daughter, another version of the couple develops the technology to transfer a person’s consciousness from one iteration to another across universes. Each world should exist separately from the rest, but this advancement leads to complications that reverberate across the entire multiverse.

If an integral part of the human experience is constantly wondering, “What if,” then Everything Everywhere is the equivalent of strapping a rocket to that question and launching it into space. Like Swiss Army Man, the film examines universal questions about life, love and the meaning of existence through the same funhouse mirror of absurdity. Only Daniels could make a movie with the playful wackiness of Michel Gondry, the sentimentality of Steven Spielberg and the frenetic energy of Michael Bay at his best. During a Q&A session following the world premiere at SXSW, the pair joked that Everything Everywhere was an excuse to use rejected concepts from their music video days.

Yeoh and Quan are perfect foils as the bitter tiger mom and her submissive husband, two childhood sweethearts trying to find their way back toward the way they used to be when they were young and optimistic since their lives didn’t take off in the way they’d hoped after running away to America together. (Reaching one’s potential is another recurring theme). Even while cycling through universes, the film provides commentary on generational trauma through the many ways that Evelyn’s relationships with her father and her daughter play out in different worlds, like a spinning color wheel of expectation, rejection, approval, supplication and reconciliation. Hsu shines in what is arguably the most complex role, and Curtis is brilliant as an IRS official who just can’t give the Wongs a break.

Simultaneously heartfelt, absurd and hilarious, Everything Everywhere is the sort of film that practically demands an immediate re-watch to catch all the nuance in the narrative and visuals. Daniels have been cultivating their creative team and production crew over the years, and the film showcases their strengths. One can only imagine how many other strange universes were left on the cutting room floor.

Everything Everywhere will be in theaters starting March 25, 2022.


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